By Cindy Mindell ~
Nearly 70 years after German bombers pinned him in his foxhole in a French field, Murray Fink was presented with the French Legion of Honor award, France’s highest military decoration. The 93-year-old veteran, a former resident of Kent, received the medal last month at the Toby Weinman Assisted Living Facility in St. Petersburg, Fla.
Established in 1802 by Napoleon Bonaparte, the French Legion of Honor is the highest citation in France that recognizes civil and military action in service to France by a citizen or foreigner. In 2004, on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the liberation of France, French President Nicolas Sarkozy established a program to recognize members of the Allied Forces who took part in the campaigns to liberate France – Normandy, Provence, Ardennes, and Northern France.
To be eligible for the Legion of Honor, veterans must be living at the time of the award presentation and have fought in at least one of the four liberation campaigns. They must provide several documents: honorable discharge, military separation order; citations for other awards; military records that cite their missions on French soil before May 8, 1945; a written paragraph explaining the mission; and a completed Proposal Memory form from a Consulate General of France in the U.S.
Fink had just opened a podiatry practice in Hampstead, N.Y., when he enlisted in the military in July 1943. He landed with his invasion group at Utah Beach on July 4, 1944 as part of Operation Overlord and served as a medic on the front lines in Normandy and in battalion-aid stations along the march through France.
“Being a podiatrist in the army was very important because we did a lot of walking and there were a lot of injuries,” he says. “We had to keep our men going.”
By July 19, he and other American forces under Gen. George Patton’s command were near Lessay, France. That day, Fink and his unit were scattered in foxholes in a farmer’s field when German reconnaissance planes flew overhead. “One particular plane flew very low over us and I looked up and could see the pilot as plain as I could see the guy next to me,” Fink says. “I could see Swastikas and identification in German on the wings. What I didn’t know was that, in the next field, there was an American regimental battery. The planes were looking for them, not us, but we were always subject to whatever was flying around.”
Fink warned his fellow soldiers that they would be hit, then dug into a foxhole next to a hedgerow. Minutes later, the shells came down. One set off a German “potato masher” grenade on the other side of the hedgerow, burying Fink in his foxhole. He sustained a concussion and serious injuries, and was evacuated to a hospital in Southbridge, England. After four months, he was transferred by ship convoy to a hospital in New York.
After four months in a hospital in Southbridge, England, Fink was transferred to a hospital in New York.
In the late ‘50s, he settled in Kent, with his wife and two children. After 25 years, he retired to St. Petersburg, close to his daughter, Lea Seiden.
Fink’s son, Judd, is a longtime West Hartford resident. It was Judd who learned about the French Legion of Honor program while visiting his father in Florida.
“I felt that, since my father was injured, he should get the award,” Judd says. “I am in my 60s but my father is still my hero, always was, even though he doesn’t think he is or was special. That is why I asked him first – he is his own man, even at 93 – and then helped him go after the award.” Last year, Fink was awarded a Purple Heart for his injuries.
At the presentation ceremony last month, Fink expressed gratitude before the 30 attendees, some of them other decorated World War II veterans.
“I said that I was accepting the honor not only for myself, but for thousands of other guys who never made it, the guys who were killed or who died a natural death,” he says. “They all deserve the medal.”