Rock Hill’s John “Buddy” Ernandez, who landed on Omaha Beach on D-Day in World War II, received thanks from France Sunday in Rock Hill for helping to liberate the country from Nazi Germany’s hold.
Ernandez received the Legion of Honor from France, the country’s highest honor. People lined up at the Magnolia Room at Laurel Creek to greet Ernandez and thank him for his service.
“These guys lost their youth in a heartbeat,” said Bernard Marie, a French dignitary who presented the honor to Ernandez while a crowd of Ernandez’s friends, family and fellow veterans looked on.
Ernandez, now 86, was a member of the U.S. Army 1st Infantry. He was drafted in 1943. He was among the second wave of soldiers who waded ashore on the coast of Normandy, France, on June 6, 1944.
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Hamp McManus, family friend and retired major general in the U.S. Army who served for 34 years, said such honors play an important role in helping veterans and others reflect on their service.
“You have to remember the past – you really can’t forget it,” McManus said.
While many veterans say the only heroes are those who gave their lives in combat, they’re all “a part of America’s history.”
The ceremony provides a “moment to pause and think about that,” McManus said.
Marie, who has helped many D-Day veterans receive the honor, said the French and other countries annually remember their liberation and those who gave their lives and service in the effort.
The United States’ own World War II and D-Day memorials were built long after the war’s end.
Now veterans from that time are “fading away at high speed,” which makes it even more important to honor them now, he said.
“Never forget what they did because if we are here today, it is because of a man like (Ernandez),” he said.
Ernandez’s daughter, Jonie Alewine, said the ceremony was “awesome.”
While she was growing up, her father didn’t really mention the war. It wasn’t until the last decade, when Ernandez and his wife Beverly took trips to Normandy and D-Day gatherings in the states that he began talking about it.
“This is something he should have been talking about,” she said. “They’re the greatest generation of all time.”