Bastille Day, the holiday commemorating France’s independence, had special meaning in Boston Monday when two 89-year-old World War II veterans were awarded that country’s highest honor at the State House.
Surrounded by about 400 people, Norman Grossman of Hingham and Frank Pagliuca of Brockton received the Legion of Honor.
“This is a very high honor in France,” said Fabien Fieschi, the consul general of France in Boston. “We used to give it just to a few people, but on the 60th anniversary of D-day, we realized that basically any of those who were on those beaches . . . who fought for France and for our freedom in World War II, they deserve our recognition, a sign of how grateful we are.”
Dressed in a blue sports jacket and khakis, Grossman moved through the crowd with a cane, shaking hands and receiving applause.
“Stormin’ Norman!” yelled those at one table as he approached, clapping and welcoming him. He waved as he moved closer to the table with a smile.
Originally from Newton, Grossman was a private first class in the 116th Infantry Regiment, 29th Division. He helped storm the beaches of Normandy on D-Day. He received a Purple Heart, among other medals and recognition for his service.
“I’m very flattered to be honored, especially by the French government,” Grossman said. “I’m glad I participated, did a little part to help free France. When you fight for freedom, and when you see other countries have that freedom, I’m very touched.”
Pagliuca, who also fought in France, stood in a black suit with a red tie with his fellow members of Brockton VFW Post 1046. He was a member of the 75th Infantry Division and said he was a corporal who started in a field artillery outfit, but ended up in a tank battalion.
“I feel honored. Bastille Day is the same thing as Independence Day is for us,” Pagliuca said. He said that when America was fighting for its independence, the French came to the colonists’ aid. He was glad to help return the favor during World War II.
“One hand washes the other; that’s what it’s all about. But I never expected to be honored like this,” he said. “Never in my life.”