- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 6, 2002

BEDFORD, Va. (AP) When Sgt. Bob Slaughter first set foot on French soil the morning of June 6, 1944, he couldn't have known that the largest, air, sea and land battle in history would take over the latter years of his life.
On Oct. 23, six decades after battle, France will honor Mr. Slaughter's efforts to create the National D-Day Memorial in Bedford with the Legion of Honor, the country's highest honor for a civilian.
Along with Mr. Slaughter, Bedford Mayor Mike Shelton and Evelyn Kowalchuk, a D-Day nurse and Smith Mountain Lake resident, will receive the honor.
They are in good company: Former Presidents George H. W. Bush and Ronald Reagan have received the award. So has comedian Jerry Lewis, chef Julia Child and actor Robert DeNiro.
The Oct. 23 ceremony at the D-Day Memorial will be special, said Bernard Marie, a Frenchman who lives in Roanoke and is friends with the president of the American Society of the French Legion of Honor in New York. That's because French Gen. Jean Phillipe Douin, grand chancellor of the Order of the Legion of Honor, will present the awards.
"That rarely happens" for Americans, Mr. Marie said. "It's an unbelievable honor for these three people."
Gen. Douin attended the D-Day Memorial dedication last year, along with President Bush, who saluted the efforts of D-Day veterans and praised Bedford as representative of small towns across the country.
Gen. Douin wanted to return to the memorial, said Mr. Marie, a member of the memorial's advisory board.
As Mr. Slaughter recently prepared to dash off to Heidelberg, Germany, on a trip to address soldiers about military leadership on D-Day, he reflected on his Legion of Honor.
"I feel very appreciative that they're doing this," Mr. Slaughter said. "It makes me feel good that we were able to liberate France from the Nazis back in 1945."
Mr. Slaughter has lived much of the last several years out of his suitcase, traveling to England and France at the invitation of cable television and independent production companies working on D-Day documentaries. He routinely receives e-mails from students in Germany and France wanting first-hand accounts of the invasion, as well.
Back home in Roanoke County, Mr. Slaughter goes to schools, civic group meetings and veterans' gatherings to speak about the memorial.
"I'm busier than I've ever been," he explained.
But Mr. Slaughter is quick to point the spotlight on his fallen comrades. "I'm accepting this for all those other guys," he said.
Like Mr. Slaughter, Mr. Shelton said he feels unworthy of the honor. "I may be the first recipient with a pickup truck," he said.
Mr. Shelton spearheaded efforts for the National D-Day Memorial Foundation to acquire land in Bedford. He served as vice chairman of the foundation's board of directors for a time, too.
Since then, Mr. Shelton has visited France repeatedly to establish a relationship between communities near the Omaha Beach area of Normandy and Bedford. Omaha Beach was the military code name for the portion of beach where most of the American soldiers, including Mr. Slaughter, landed during the invasion.
A replica of a statue from Trevieres, one of the French communities there, will be unveiled at the D-Day Memorial after the awards ceremony.


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