Veteran Wilfried Singer reminds us WWII after being awarded the Legion of Honor
The Consul General of France decorated 20 veterans on January 19th at Boyton Beach.
The Ambassador of France to the United States, François Delattre, also decorated two veterans during his visit to Tampa on January 23rd.
Wilfried Singer, decorated January 19th at Boynton Beach, discusses both his war experience and his vivid memories of France.
You were a young man when WWII started. How did you join the US army?
I was drafted by the army in 1943. There was a draft in the United States and I was called up for duty in January 1943.
In the United States, I underwent my basic training in Florida. Then, I went to an administration college. Afterwards, the Army sent me to Oklahoma for a few months. I was later stationed in Reno, Nevada for 7 months. While I was in Reno, a commission sent me overseas where I went to a small town outside of Oxford in England.
I was assigned to specialize in maintenance repair for the small piper called Aircraft, the airplane that was used for liaison. Because of this, my complete outfit was assigned to the First Army Artillery. Consequently, after the invasion on D-Day +4, we were all shipped to France. It was thus that I came to be in Normandy on D-Day +4.
What were your most significant memories of France?
My first memory was also the hardest as I was hurt the first night. That was my biggest memory of France.
Once I recuperated, I worked on my job. I was an Airforce supply technician. In others words, I coordinated supplies for the maintenance and repair of the army Aircaft.
As a matter of fact, I was lucky to get in to Paris on liberation day. That was a beautiful experience and something that I will never forgot.
Years later, in fact, just seven years ago, my wife and I made a trip back to Paris. We spent a week in Paris and it was marvelous although we saw it in a different light. It presented a different picture, as everything was different.
I can imagine you learned a few words in French?
After spending some time in Germany, I was sent back to Paris as an instructor for 5 weeks. Living for 5 weeks in Paris, it was necessary for me to learn to speak in French, and, little by little, I learned some words. Every time I meet a French person, I enjoy trying to speak with them, mentioning that “Je parle un petit peu le français”. I also take French classes in my neighborhood as I do not want to forget the language.
Did you keep in contact with anyone in France?
As a matter of fact, this past summer, my daughter got on the computer and located a girl that I had met when during the occupation. She found out that she was living in Montreal and was able to find a phone number. We called her and I finally spoke to her after all these years.
She is in the middle of writing a book, and in her book, she talks about me and actually shows some pictures of me. She was my girlfriend. She survived the Holocaust but ended up in a displaced person camp in Lansburg, Germany. When the war ended, my outfit was split up. I was sent to a station company in Bavaria where I became a Sergeant and I met her.
You participated in the Normandy Landing, certainly the most vivid memory of the war for the French people. By doing so, you took part in the liberation of Northern France before joining the Battle of Ardennes. Could you talk to us briefly about those difficult times that are a part of both French and American shared history?
The difficult time was the same as it was for every other soldier in combat. We had to sleep out in the open, we had to cook out in the open, and we moved as the troops advanced, we moved along the way with them all the way through.
Being a soldier you did what you had to do. Whatever your outfit did, you went along with them. And you think that you are lucky to stay alive. One experience I do remember in France is, in a foxhole, somebody lit a cigarette, the Germans saw the cigarette light and started to bomb that whole area where the foxhole was. So that was an experience that I will never forget.
One night, we heard somebody yelling out “stop, stop who goes there?” And we heard a gunshot “bang bang bang”. And we turned out that the soldier did not see that it was a cow in the field and he shot the cow.
You were awarded by the Legion of Honour on January 19th in Boynton Beach. How do you feel about being highly recognized by the French authorities?
I feel very honored to receive this award. I waited for one year. We shared and exchanged our story with the other people awarded, in order to know in which army, and in which company we worked. Most of the people that received the award had their family there, and I had my wife and two daughters that came down from New York just to see this ceremony, it was very emotional.