By Ashley Johnson, Courier Staff Writer
More than 65 years after his participation of service in World War II, one local veteran will get his due honors at an international ceremony in Washington, D.C., as a gesture of gratitude for his personal contributions to the liberation of France.
World War II veteran Henry Parham, who has been named a “Chevalier” of the Legion of Honor, will be honored for his dedication and service in World War II when he receives the award June 6 at the French Embassy in Washington, D.C., at the 69th D-Day Anniversary ceremony.
The Legion of Honor is the highest decoration in France and Chevalier is the highest degree of five that can be awarded.
“I am excited and really looking forward to it. I really don’t know what to say,” said Parham, 91. “It was quite an experience, but I got through it and I’m proud of it.”
Parham, who was 21 when he was enlisted in the military, served in the 320th Anti-Aircraft Artillery Balloon Barrage Battalion, an all Black unit trained for the Invasion of Normandy, France, to aid in the Allied liberation of Europe. His unit, the only Black combat unit to take part in the D-Day invasion, was responsible for protecting Omaha Beach, one of five landing areas during the invasion, and the American aircraft responsible for bringing reinforcements and supplies to the troops. They also employed barrage balloons against enemy aicraft.
Parham said his five-man unit flew from dust until dawn and stayed on the beach for 68 days. According to previous reports, after leaving Normandy, Parham went on to protect General George Patton’s army in Sherburne, France. He was discharged Nov. 13, 1945.
To commemorate his achievement, Parham will be joined by his wife of 39 years, Ethel, and four of their family members.
“We’re excited,” said Ethel Parham. “I thank God he’s alive to witness this after 69 years. This is a special occasion.”
Besides receiving his honor, Parham said he is also looking forward to visiting the World War II and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorials, which he will see for the first time.
He joked that his honors could lead to his involvement in a movie. Parham has also received a commemorative medal for the 50th Anniversary of D-Day.