Samuel Katz is no longer the young serviceman who completed 25 bombing missions in a B-24 heavy bomber over France, Holland and Germany during World War II. But a week before turning 95, he stood tall at the French Embassy in Washington as he was bestowed with the insignia of the National Order of the Chevalier of the Legion of Honor, France’s highest military and civil distinction.
The resident of a senior living center in Elkins Park, Pa., outside Philadelphia, was joined at the April 15 ceremony by his family, including his four children.
According to Katz’s son, Michael, it was while doing research about his unit that Samuel Katz found out that the French government honored American liberators.
“He arranged for this event,” Michael said. “He was tenacious. He had called the French Embassy many, many times to no avail. And eventually he got this letter to get the award.”
“I’m sort of surprised. I never thought that they would send me an invitation for this medal,” said Samuel Katz, who called himself lucky to have survived the war considering the Army Air Forces took heavy casualties at that time.
“We did get into trouble several times. We had emergency landings and that sort of thing, and I saw many planes going down — on fire, people jumping out, some not able to get out. I can’t forget it,” he said.
Katz enlisted in the Army in 1941 at age 20. After attending radio school and receiving radar training, he was accepted for flight training as a navigator and arrived in England for bombing missions July 1944.
Grandson Brandon Katz joined them at the ceremony, along with Samuel Katz’s daughters Lynn Benjamin, Cecilia Frankford and Sheryl Goldenberg. His wife, Leatrice, died in 2010.
“We’re teasing him and telling him he is becoming a knight because ‘chevalier’ means knight in French and so we’re calling him Sir Samuel,” said Benjamin.
Michael said that his father is “extremely happy and motivated” and is in “terrific health.”
“He doesn’t use a walker or wheelchair or cane. He exercises every day,” said Michael, who added that his father lives in a first-floor apartment, preparing his own meals and taking care of himself without the help of a nurse or other staff.
He walks three flights of stairs a day. “For exercise,” said Michael.
Fifteen other veterans were honored at the ceremony, presided over by Michel Charbonnier, the general consul of France. The American and French national anthems were sung by the choir of the Rochambeau French International School in Bethesda.
Speaking to the veterans, Charbonnier said he was humbled to honor them for their military achievements to secure freedom for France.
Said Charbonnier: “Without you, the Americans, we would not have been able to maintain our freedom, to rebuild our lands and our democracy as a common ideal between both sides of the Atlantic. We will never forget it.”