Army veteran Ed Phillips, 93, was given the Legion of Honor by the French Government

by: SPOKESMAN PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - Honorary French Consul Francoise Aylmer shares a laugh with Wilsonville veteran Ed Phillips during a July 2 ceremony A Wilsonville D-Day veteran recently received the French government’s highest honor for courage for his service in France during World War 2.

Ed Phillips, 93, was given the Chevalier of the Legion d’Honneur by a decree signed by the President of the French Republic in a ceremony held July 2 at Spring Ridge Court retirement community in Charbonneau. The award is bestowed upon American veterans of one of the three major Allied campaigns in France following the June 6, 1944, landings in Normandy.

“It is really difficult for us to imagine how much bravery and courage it required to land in France as you did,” said Francoise Aylmer, Honorary Consul of France for the State of Oregon just before pinning the medal to Phillips’ suit jacket lapel. “It was pure hell; and there is no way to properly thank you, but we will try.”

by: SPOKESMAN PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - A wartime portrait of Ed Phillips was displayed during the ceremony July 2 at which he received the Legion of Honor. Phillips served as a Master Sergeant in the 246th Signal Operations Company, U.S. Army, attached to the 1st Army Division. He landed with his platoon on Omaha Beach, Normandy, June 6, 1944. As the battle for France continued through 1944 and into 1945, he was involved in many operations, including the Battle at Saint Lo in July 1944, the Battle of Aachen, October 1944 and the Battle of the Bulge in December-January, 1944/1945.

Phillips’ immediate reaction afterward, however, was one that is shared by innumerable veterans of his generation.

“Well, like I told the kids,” he said, “why should I get it? What did I do to get it? It’s real nice to be awarded this, but you, know, there were so many other millions of men who were there; I hope they are all getting some kind of recognition, too.”

The ceremony, he continued, makes him think “about some friends that weren’t so fortunate.”

Aylmer said she has seen this reaction countless times during award ceremonies.

“Many of the veterans are surprised and humbled,” she said. “They don’t think they deserve it. But you do. You were so young, and so brave; we have seen the caissons, we have seen the weapons, we have seen the big guns, and they were all aimed at you. And we are so grateful that you are here today.”

A bit of cider

by: SPOKESMAN PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - Ed Phillips gets a big hug of thanks from honorary French Consul Francoise Aylmer July 2 at a ceremony honoring Phillips service in France during World War II. Given the horrors of the war, it’s probably not surprising that many of the moments that still stick in his mind when he thinks of his service in France are those with a bit of levity.

“I can remember most of the French farmers who were very gracious and we got fresh eggs from them occasionally,” said Phillips, a Salt Lake City native who now lives in Wilsonville’s Charbonneau neighborhood.

“I told you about this guy from Boston, name of Ellsworth,” he continued, turning to his daughter Mary. “We got a five-gallon water can and got it filled with hard cider. And whenever he started hitting the cider he’d start singing ‘You Are My Sunshine,’ and that has lived with me all these years. Every time I hear that song I think about him.”

The French people, Phillips recalled, were extremely gracious to he and other American servicemen following the removal of their former German occupiers.

“I didn’t have a great deal to do with the French people, but when I did they were gracious,” he said. “That little girl we adopted was in Belgium, but they were the same kind of people as the French people and very gracious people.”

Phillips’ daughter, Mary, was in charge of the Legion of Honor application process, which requires the submission of each veteran’s military records along with citations for decorations received for bravery while fighting in France. She interviewed her father at length as part of that process, and said it was the first time she could ever recall him talking about his service during the war in such detail. The Belgian orphan was just one example.

“There was a little orphan girl when his platoon was in Belgium that they sort of adopted while they were there,” she said. “They sort of adopted her and her family and they gave them food, and kind of helped them while they were there.”

Of course, there are other memories of wartime France, many of them still too raw for Phillips to talk about 70 years later.

There was the amphibious landing on Omaha Beach in Normandy, followed by the horrific, close-quarters fighting in the hedgerows of the French countryside. The battle for Saint Lo, which lasted from July 7-21, 1944, was particularly grim.

by: SPOKESMAN PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - Ed Phillips, center, was awarded the Legion of Honor, the French governments highest award for bravery, for his service in France during World War II. What was even more horrific, though, were the sights Phillips and his fellow soldiers were confronted with at Buchenwald, a concentration camp where tens of thousands of Jews, Soviet and other Allied prisoners of war and others perished at the hands of the Nazis.

“You just wouldn’t believe it,” he said, shaking his head.

“As I looked at the award and realized he fit the criteria, we started putting it together,” Mary Phillips said. “And I started interviewing him and that was the first time, two years ago, that he ever started talking about some of the things.

“I remember,” she continued, “when he was telling me about the battle of Saint Lo, that one has stuck with him and he really still doesn’t want to talk about that. He didn’t go into detail with me, just that that was the worst battle he remembered.”

“Up until that time,” Ed Phillips added.

Cumulatively, it was an awful lot to digest for a kid from Salt Lake City.

Just 20 when his father drove him to a Navy enlistment office to volunteer, Phillips was initially turned down by that branch of his service because of his eyesight. The Army, however, was happy to have him.

“They felt me and said, ‘Oh, you’re still warm, you’re good,’” he said with a chuckle.

As a communications specialist, Phillips rose to the rank of Master Sergeant during the war. He was discharged immediately following the end of hostilities with Japan, but remained in the reserves until 1951 when he was called up for duty in Korea but failed a physical because of an earlier non-combat back injury. It wasn’t the only time he was injured during his stint in Europe, though.

“I always thought when we were little that he had a Purple Heart,” Mary Phillips said. “So I asked him when I was interviewing him but he said, ‘No, I turned that down.’”

The reason for her curiosity is the lump of metal shrapnel still stuck in Phillips’ arm. When she was a kid it caused a lump in his arm that gradually disappeared over time as the metal worked its way deeper into the muscle.

To Phillips, though, it wasn’t really worth mentioning. It was just the inevitable result of being a soldier.

“It was just at an aid station,” he said. “And they just cleaned it and wrapped it. And if I’d have gotten a Purple Heart for that I would have been laughed out of my company. Besides, there were guys laying there with their feet off, so I just took off and went back.”

His daughter just shook her head.

by: SPOKESMAN PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - Honorary French Consul Francoise Aylmer reads American veteran Ed Phillips award citation during a July 2 ceremony at Spring Ridge Court in Charbonneau.“You think about being a 21 or 22 year old kid going through that and it’s … I can’t even imagine it in my wildest dreams,” she said. “Which is why I think that people don’t really like to talk about a lot of the detail; because it’s very emotional and very hard to relive. But my dad is probably the king of resilience.”

Phillips said he is extremely happy living in Wilsonville, to which he moved just a couple of years ago. His only regret is that his wife Virginia, who passed away a year ago, is no longer with him to enjoy what he terms one of the happiest periods of his life.

“I love it,” he said, “I’ve never been happier. The only thing I wish is that Ginnie could have been here to live a good life with me.”

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