75 years after D-Day, France officially thanks Robert Barnard for his service

  • Robert J. Barnard (center) greets New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu and French Counsul General Arnaud Mentre before the presentation of the French Legion of Honor Award at Pleasantview in Concord on June 20, 2019. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Robert J. Barnard receives a kiss on the cheek from French Counsul General Arnaud Mentre after receiving the French Legion of Honor Award as Governor Chris Sununu looks on at Pleasantview in Concord on June 20, 2019. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Robert Barnard receives the French Legion of Honor Award from French Consul General Arnaud Mentre as New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu looks on at Pleasant View Center in Concord on Thursday. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Robert J. Barnard smitles after receiving the French Legion of Honor Award from the French Counsul General Arnaud Mentre as Governor Chris Sununu claps at Pleasantview in Concord on June 20, 2019. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Robert Barnard (center) is flanked by New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu and French Consul General Arnaud Mentre before the presentation of the French Legion of Honor Award at Pleasant View Center in Concord on Thursday. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Robert J. Barnard receives the French Legion of Honor Award from the French Counsul General Arnaud Mentre as Governor Chris Sununu looks on at Pleasantview in Concord on June 20, 2019. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 6/20/2019 6:15:13 PM

Seventy-five years ago, Robert Barnard was one of approximately 156,000 Allied troops to storm the beaches of Normandy on D-Day: June 6, 1944. He was 18 and suffered severe shrapnel wounds in his face, spine and pelvis.

The Allies’ invasion of northern France eventually led to the Nazis’ surrender less than a year later, and the French government continues to honor the veterans who were there to help rid their nation of the fascist regime that had taken over.

Barnard, formerly of Hopkinton, became the latest veteran to receive the recognition as he was named a Chevalier of the French Legion of Honor. It is the French government’s highest honor.

“There was a dark cloud hanging over my country when you came,” said Arnaud Mentré, the Consul General of France in Boston. Mentré made the trip to Pleasant View Center in Concord on Thursday morning so the ceremony could be held among Barnard’s family and friends.

More than 80 people filled the hall, including fellow Pleasant View residents and veterans. Barnard’s children and grandchildren filled the first row while Barnard sat in the front facing the crowd, with Mentré to his right and Gov. Chris Sununu to his left.

The French and United States flags stood behind them, and Barnard’s old, worn U.S. Navy hat sat upon his head. He removed it only to stand at attention as pianist Martha Keupper performed the U.S. and French national anthems.

Barnard was one of four veterans to share his experience with the Monitor for a series that marked the 75th anniversary of D-Day earlier this month. He wanted to share his harrowing account to help younger generations understand the horrors of war.

“I want people to know how bad war is,” he said.

In their remarks, Mentré and Sununu, as well as Lt. Col. David West, praised Barnard for his courage. Their words also shared a broader theme that it is important to honor living and fallen veterans by preserving the stories they share.

“We’re not going to let these stories die,” Sununu said. “We’re going to make sure people understand what it is to be an American, what it is to fight for freedom ... and give your life for a million strangers, because there is something so much bigger than us as individuals.”

D-Day veterans across the country, now in their 90s or older, shared stories of their experiences on the beaches as the nation recognized the 75th anniversary of the invasion this month.

“Closely listen to their stories about that day,” West said. “In your mind’s eye, you can feel the fear of being on one of those landing boats. You can smell the ocean, you can feel the seasickness ... you can envision the looks on the faces of your fellow sailors and soldiers – the fear in them, the anger, the tears, the uncertainty of what lay ahead.”

Jerry Lavigne, 86, is president of the Pleasant View Retirement Residents Association. He is also a veteran of the Korean War and sips coffee with Barnard and other residents each morning.

When Lavigne went to the podium to speak, he asked the veterans and service members in the room to stand and salute Barnard. About 15 men and women rose to their feet.

Lavigne, who wore a hat signifying his service in Korea, said he believes the appreciation for veterans by civilians has grown over the years.

“More people, as I walk around and wear this hat, people stop me to say ‘Thank you for your service,’ and that was never done before,” Lavigne said after the ceremony. “I think the people are noticing, through the publicity that is being shown, what our veterans have done and sacrificed. I think it is a little more publicized now that we need to thank these veterans for the freedoms we have.”

Barnard, 93, uses a walker to get around but he stood tall on his own power as Mentré placed the medal on his lapel, just above the Purple Heart pinned to his breast pocket. The crowd stood and applauded for nearly a full minute. Barnard turned and smiled at his family.

“The whole family is really proud of him,” said David Barnard, Robert’s 54-year-old son. “We’ve known his story all along, but to have people hear his story and getting this recognition for everything is great. We all appreciate it.”

(Nick Stoico can be reached at 369-3321, nstoico@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @NickStoico.)




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