Surf City D-Day Vet, 93, Awarded French Legion of Honour

Half His Regiment Killed or Wounded During Allied Invasion
Nov 14, 2013
Courtesy of: Lycée Français de New York John Gutbrod

Ninety-three-year-old John Gutbrod of Surf City is a knight in the eyes of France as of Friday, when he was presented with that country’s Legion of Honour medal for his service in the U.S. Army 70 years ago.

Gutbrod was presented the highest French war decoration at the Lycée Français de New York – literally the French High School of New York – during Veterans Day weekend along with 32 others who fought as United States troops to liberate France from the Nazi army in World War II. For Gutbrod, this included D-Day, the invasion of Normandy during which the majority of his regiment was killed.

“We went into Normandy with 148 men. And 37 days later there were 62 of us on our feet,” said Gutbrod. More than half of the U.S. Army 507th Parachute Infantry Regiment were lost or wounded in that initial battle. “We were one of the first regiments that got onto the beach. We lost a lot of men. My regiment took a real beating in Normandy. It took us a while to recover. I was lucky; I got hit a couple times, nothing serious, but shot twice.”

Gutbrod’s unit was already decorated with the Croix de Guerre, the French military “Cross of War” for heroism given among foreign forces allied with the French Republic.

“I was surprised this even happened,” said Gutbrod on receiving the individual award Friday. “It happened so long ago. How about all those young men that didn’t make it that should’ve got the awards?”

According to Gutbrod, he is the only one left alive from his battalion and believes he was the only paratrooper out of the 33 veterans honored, which included those who served in the U.S. Army or Navy in French lands during World War II.

“They were all way old, like me, and some of ’em were in pretty bad shape,” the spry Gutbrod said, laughing. “You got to realize this happened 70 years ago; not one of us is not in our late 80s or early 90s.”

It was the fourth year the LFNY has given out the awards, with each recipient introduced by a French high school student who gave a speech on the war record of each soldier. Gutbrod was among a group of veterans to have his medal personally pinned on him by François Delattre, the French ambassador to the United States.

The French knighthood follows Gutbrod’s recent receipt of a Bronze Star and Purple Heart for heroic acts that also included fighting in the Battle of the Bulge. He finally received those honors about a year ago. The long delay was due in part to the loss of war records in a disastrous fire at the National Personnel Records Center in 1973.

Gutbrod never felt the need to pursue those medals. He credits the Ocean County Board of Freeholders, including Gerry Little of Surf City, with the effort behind him eventually receiving the honors.

The French medal makes Gutbrod a member of the National Order of the Legion of Honour, which was established by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1802. The Order is divided into five degrees, the first of which is Chevalier.

“It’s just another thing to hang on the wall; it doesn’t increase my pension any,” Gutbrod joked.

When asked if the Legion of Honour compares to a United States Medal of Honor, the grizzled veteran quipped, “Oh no, nowhere near that. Maybe a Silver Star.”

Ultimately, though, Gutbrod is appreciative. “It’s a nice thought of the French government. It was fun; it was a nice affair. It was very well done by the high school – very effective. I enjoyed it, and I appreciated it very much.”

Even at 93, however, such events cannot help but replay the imagery in Gutbrod’s mind of those moments of heroism and survival that led to a man living by the beach being knighted.

“It’s bound to bring back a lot of memories,” he said. “Some I want to remember. Some I want to forget.”

— Michael Molinaro

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