“You’ve got to be kidding me,” Arthur Ross thought after he was told at sea the Allies would invade Europe on June 6, 1944.
He was worried the luxury liner he sailed on, the Louis Pasteur, would head directly to battle.
After the U.S. Army had drafted Ross only a year and five months earlier, his father had given him one specific order.
“Sunny,” his father said, “just come back in one piece.”
Ross’ ship sailed into Liverpool instead, and it wasn’t until August he would go to the Continent — first to France, then to Germany.
It was his second stroke of luck since joining the Army. After arriving in Oregon for training, he was one of 13 men transferred to California before heading to Europe. His original infantry unit didn’t survive the war, he said.
The 89-year-old told these stories while standing in the Boynton Beach Civic Center on Thursday, displaying on his chest the French Legion of Honor medal he had received just one half-hour before.
He was one of 15 men the French Consulate in Miami honored for their service on the 69th anniversary of D-Day. About 60 people attended the ceremony.
Ross was joined by his girlfriend of four years, Irma Goldstein, and his sister, Joan Stone. Stone said she cried when Ross received his medal, just as she had when Ross came home from the war. She and Goldstein agreed on the importance of honoring veterans.
“The younger generations are very complacent about the country we live in,” Stone said. “They should appreciate what our veterans have done.”
Ross, a Lake Worth resident, was a technician fourth grade in the Headquarters Company of the 902nd Engineers, according to an event program. He was also involved in the Battle of the Rhineland. His other medals are for European African Middle Eastern service, good conduct and the Allied victory.
He got a smile from the French consulate representatives when he thanked them with, “Monsieur, merci.” He learned French for his five-month stint as an army French interpreter.
“I felt very proud,” he said. “And touched.”
On the other side of the room, Ben Shumaker posed for cellphone photos with three generations of his family.
The 92-year-old from Boca Raton resident was a first lieutenant in the Military Intelligence Service, participating in the Battle of the Rhineland, liberation of Northern France, the Battle of the Bulge and the liberation of Normandy, according to an event handout.
Shumaker said it felt great to get the medal. He remembered joining the army just five days after Japan bombed Pearl Harbor in December 1941.
His son, Robert Shumaker, a licensed psychologist practicing in Delray Beach, and daughter, Andrea Gonik, a speech-language pathologist in Boca Raton, said they encouraged their father to attend the ceremony.
Robert Shumaker said the family has plenty of his father’s WWII memorabilia, but he wished his father would speak more about his exploits.
Ben Shumaker was in the 9th Armored Division reserves for a number of years after WWII, his children said. He traveled all over Europe and interrogated prisoners of war, retiring as a colonel. He was even mistaken as a German because of how fluently he spoke the language.
“They changed history,” said Robert Shumaker, 61.
Robert’s son, Andrew, an 18-year-old University of Florida student, saw the significance in recognizing his grandfather’s accomplishments.
“It was cool,” he said. “If you think about it, we’re the last generation to witness this stuff.”