Lo­cal World War II vet­eran re­ceives French Le­gion of Honor

The Phoenix - - FRONT PAGE - By Gary Puleo gpuleo@21st-cen­tu­ry­media.com @Mus­tangMan48 on Twit­ter

He made a ten­der­hearted, war-torn de­ci­sion that day in France that earned him a Bronze Star fromthe U.S. Army, and now, at long last, the French govern­ment is ac­knowl­edg­ing his com­pas­sion too.

U.S. Army vet­eran Frank J. Hor­vath, a for­mer master sergeant, re­ceived France’s high­est award for valor dur­ing a cer­e­mony Sept. 21 at the Con­sul of France in Philadel­phia.

Even after 73 years, the dates and every last de­tail are as vivid for Hor­vath as if they hap­pened last Thurs­day.

“I do have a very good knack of re­mem­ber­ing dates, events and all that kind of stuff,” noted the 95-year-old, reach­ing for his trusted banjo in his res­i­dence at the South­east­ern Veter­ans’ Cen­ter in Spring City.

The banjo, which the mul­ti­in­stru­men­tal­ist strums fre­quently, is sim­i­lar to the one that ac­com­pa­nied Hor­vath from his na­tive Palmer­ton to the sands of Omaha Beach and kept him grounded through the tur­moil so far from home.

“When I went onto the ship in Brook­lyn I had it strapped to my back,” he said, “and when I got off the ship in Liver­pool

headed for Nor­mandy peo­ple were look­ing at me won­der­ing, ‘What is this guy do­ing with an in­stru­ment strapped to his back?’”

Hor­vath served in the K Com­pany’s 331st In­fantry Reg­i­ment, 83rd Di­vi­sion, land­ing on Omaha Beach on June 16, 1944.

The 83rd Di­vi­sion had been ordered to re­place the 101st Air­borne Di­vi­sion in the vicin­ity of Carentan, France, cre­at­ing a break­through to Brit­tany, Hor­vath noted.

On July 21 Hor­vath was awarded a Bronze Star “for some­thing I’d done in the hedgerows,” he re­called.

“What hap­pened in those hedge rows was that the Ger­mans would have a tank in one cor­ner and a ma­chine gun in an­other cor­ner, and they’d have snipers in trees,” he said. “So when you wanted to go into that area you’d have to pass through this en­trance. If you weren’t care­ful you’d walk into an am­bush that no­body could sur­vive. So we lost quite a few men that way.”

As pla­toon leader dur­ing Op­er­a­tion Co­bra, which­was the code name for an of­fen­sive launched by Lt. Gen. Omar Bradley fol­low­ing the D-Day land­ings dur­ing the Nor­mandy Cam­paign, Hor­vath found him­self con­fronting a con­crete bunker that he learned was oc­cu­pied by both Ger­mans and French.

“I got my bazooka man to fire two shells, which had no ef­fect be­cause the walls were prob­a­bly 2 feet thick. But it in­jured two of my sol­diers through shrap­nel be­cause, for some rea­son, they were not in the right po­si­tion,” Hor­vath re­mem­bered. “I no­ticed the steps go­ing down with a steel door and I hollered in to them. They yelled back ask­ing if we were go­ing to shoot them.”

Hor­vath re­sponded that he had no in­ten­tion of fir­ing at them.

“I also heard French peo­ple in­side that bunker,” he said. “Whether they were hold­ing them as hostages, I have no idea. But I looked in there and then de­cided to cease all op­er­a­tions against this bunker. There was no

way they could hurt us, and I fig­ured in due time they would come to their senses, which they did. About three or four hours later the Ger­mans de­cided to give up.”

Hor­vath did not es­cape un­scathed from the con­fronta­tion.

“As I was look­ing in­tothe en­try­way I heard this gun go off and they hit me in the leg,” he ex­plained.

Hor­vath said that his ac­tion to pro­tect French cit­i­zens is what earned him the Le­gion of Honor Medal, to be pre­sented by Michael Scullin, hon­orary con­sul of France in Philadel­phia and Wilm­ing­ton, at the Con­sul of France, lo­cated at the law of­fices of McEl­roy, Deutsch, Mul­vaney & Car­pen­ter LLP, 1 Penn Cen­ter, Sub­ur­ban Sta­tion, 1617 JFK Blvd., Suite 1500, Philadel­phia.

In ad­di­tion to two Bronze Stars, Hor­vath was also awarded a Pur­ple Heart for wounds suf­fered in bat­tle, a Good Con­duct Medal, an American The­ater Ser­vice Medal and a Vic­tory Medal.

American veter­ans who fought on French ter­ri­tory in one of the four main cam­paigns of the lib­er­a­tion of France (Nor­mandy, Provence, Ar­dennes, or North­ern France) qual­ify to be con­sid­ered for dec­o­ra­tion as cheva­liers, or knights, of the Le­gion of Honor.

“I think the French govern­ment is award­ing me their medal in honor of the fact that I did not or­der ar­tillery on this bunker, which would prob­a­bly have killed most of the peo­ple in­side, which would have been French peo­ple too,” Hor­vath said.

After spend­ing four months re­cu­per­at­ing in a hos­pi­tal in Eng­land, Hor­vath en­tered Gen. Dwight Eisen­hower’s In­for­ma­tion and Ed­u­ca­tion Di­vi­sion — “which meant that in­stead of send­ing me back to the states on limited ser­vice, I was go­ing back into France on a re­train­ing reg­i­men for of­fi­cers,” he noted — and even­tu­ally stud­ied mu­sic at Biar­ritz Univer­sity in France, where hemet his fu­ture wife, Jacqueline Marie An­toinette Seres.

The cou­ple raised three daugh­ters — Carolyn Arnold, the late Pa­tri­cia Hor­vath and Giselle Knoblauch, cur­rently a nurs­ing teacher at Nor­ris­town Area High School — in Palmer­ton, where Hor­vath re­turned to his job as a zinc ma­chin­ist ac­coun­tant after the war.

He ul­ti­mately left the zinc in­dus­try for an ad­min­is­tra­tive job with the U.S. Postal Ser­vice, re­tir­ing in 1984.

With a ti­morous grin, he re­called ini­tially be­ing sent home to re­cover from a tummy ail­ment after at­tempt­ing to en­list in the U.S. Air Force in 1942.

“I wanted to en­list in the Air Force and I took a trol- ley from Al­len­town to Philadel­phia togo to the cus­toms house, where all the mil­i­tary peo­ple who were en­ter­ing the dif­fer­ent armed forces were ex­am­ined. On the way down,” he said, “I got sick on the trol­ley, and when I got down there to take my physical exam the doc­tor said ‘You look pale. What hap­pened to you?’ I told him the truth, that I felt sick.”

The prompt med­i­cal ad­vice that fol­lowed was to head back home, get bet­ter and come back in three months.

“Two months later, I was drafted,” said Hor­vath, whose wartime mem­o­ries are never shelved for long, emerg­ing every sum­mer when he speaks to a gath­er­ing of his­tory teach­ers fro­mall over the coun­try at the Free­doms Foun­da­tion at Val­ley Forge.

“The kids to­day have no idea what we went through to pro­vide the ed­u­ca­tion they have now,” he said.

Of course, Hor­vath never for­gets to tote along his banjo to ac­com­pany him­self when he’s treat­ing his au­di­ence to those “happy World War II songs.”

“They’re happy be­cause we won the war,” he added with a smile.

GARY PULEO — DIGITAL FIRST ME­DIA

Frank Hor­vath with the bronze stars and other awards he earned dur­ing World War II.

SUB­MIT­TED PHOTO

U.S. Army vet­eran Frank J. Hor­vath re­ceivef France’s high­est award for valor dur­ing a cer­e­mony on Sept. 21at the Con­sul of France in Philadel­phia.

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