8 La. WWII veterans getting French Legion of Honor

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A soldier in the “Ghost Army” that misled and tricked the Germans and one who led months of fights behind enemy lines in Normandy are among eight World War II veterans from Louisiana who are getting the French government’s highest medal, as knights of the Legion of Honor.

Consul Jean-Claude Brunet will present the medals Wednesday to Frank J. Peragine, Al F. Goudeau, and Ervin Aden, all of New Orleans, Albert L. Lasseigne, of Houma, Joseph C. Latiolais, of Breaux Bridge, Anderson B. Wilson, of Slidell, and John T. Remel, of Gonzales.

Similar events around the U.S. this year have honored more than 100 veterans who fought in France during World War II.

The family of Joseph Reich, of Covington, who died after his medal was struck, also will get a medal. The honor is generally not given posthumously, said Rachel Haney, a museum spokeswoman.

“Because the medal was made while he was alive they’re going to give it to his family,” she said.

Wilson and Aden both landed in Normandy on D-Day, June 6, 1944.

Aden was a lieutenant in the 4th Cavalry Group, which landed on Utah Beach. For the next 55 days, according to a biography from the museum, he “led his troop in fierce fighting across Normandy,” fighting continuously, often behind enemy lines. He was seriously wounded by a German tank during the battle to liberate Villedieu-les-Poeles.

Wilson landed at Omaha Beach with the 23rd Headquarters Special Troops, which made full-size inflatable planes, tanks and heavy artillery as daylight decoys and broadcast recordings at night to simulate troop and tank movement. Wilson said he was assigned to headquarters, rather than being one of the “artists” making decoys or the sound crew in charge of nighttime broadcasts.

D-Day was the most frightening part of his service, said Wilson.

“To me, the real heroes in that operation were the 82nd Airborne and the 101st Airborne,” which parachuted into Normandy before daybreak. “Can you imagine bailing out in the pitch black?” Wilson asked.

He was among 1,023 enlisted men in a unit with 82 officers.

“We would go in and replace a division of 8,000 to 12,000 men with those eleven-hundred,” he said. “With all of the artistry and inflated tanks and artillery pieces and jeeps and airplanes we would just replace a division. And they would pull out and attack in another location.”

The fakes had to be near enough to the front lines for the enemy to see them, but far enough to fool them.

“We did work wherever we could pull off a foolery,” he said. “They taught us to lie so much that you don’t know whether I’m telling you the truth or not.”

He and other members were sworn to secrecy before the unit was disbanded in 1945. Information about the unit was declassified in 1996.

“I had two grown children before they ever knew what kind of outfit I was in,” he said.

Peragine, now a retired attorney, was a 19-year-old machine gunner when the 26th Infantry Division landed in France about three months after D-Day. It was the first division to sail directly from New York to Cherbourg Harbor, which the Allies had taken, he said.

He’d been in combat less than two months when an explosive 20mm shell hit his left ankle as Gen. George Patton’s Third Army fought from Nancy toward Metz and his unit “caught a terrific German barrage of mortars and machine guns.”

The shell tore out his Achilles tendon, about half of his heel “and a good part of my lower left leg,” Peragine said.

Peragine said he spent about 30 hours in no-man’s land before Army medics in a Red Cross truck rescued him and other soldiers.

During that time, he said, one German tried to take him as a hostage. “He gave up when he saw that I couldn’t stand,” Peragine said.

He saw another German in the early morning. “I saw him and yelled to him for water. I was just terribly thirsty. He ran away.”

Peragine said he was hospitalized for 11 months after his rescue.