American Legion honor's Bernard L. Marie
Dale Barnett, National Commander of the American Legion bestowed Bernard L. Marie with the prestigious ‘Patriot Award’ during the Legion’s 98th National Convention in Cincinnati, Ohio on Wednesday, August 31, 2016.
The proclamation reads in part ‘Your lifetime of service and devotion to World War II veterans is an inspiration to many. As a young boy who witnessed history while living in Normandy, France on June 6, 1944. As a later resident of Indianapolis, you hosted a luncheon honoring D-Day veterans to commemorate the 40th anniversary of that fateful day. The luncheons and dinners for those veterans became an annual tradition, one that was spread to your new home city of Charleston, SC, after you relocated in 1987. Your support for the National D-Day Memorial Foundation garnered the attention of national media. Through your influence, 150 American World War II veterans received their well-deserved Ordre national de la Legion d’honneur. In light of your unwavering dedication to our nation and its veterans, I would like to present you The American Legion’s prestigious Patriot Award, on behalf of the 2.2 million men and women wartime veterans of the American Legion.’
The following article is from the Roanoke Times during the 70th D-Day celebration
Child of D-Day grew into man of honor
Frenchman honors D-Day vets with dinner every year
By Matt Chittum | The Roanoke Times
He had no father, as far as he knew.
So it was Bernard Marie’s paternal grandfather who took him onto his lap in the dark basement. The old man covered the boy’s ears while the shelling roared and shook their home on the northern coast of France.
Bernard, just 5 years old plus one day, was terror stricken. None of them in the basement in the Normandy village of Luc Sur Mer could know the terrible bombardment was the harbinger of freedom.
It was only after 16 hours, when Marie heard his mother scream and the family rushed outside, that they knew they were liberated from the German occupation and the end of World War II in Europe was nigh.
Out in the daylight of June 6, 1944, Marie saw his mother embracing an American GI, a member of the massive D-Day invasion. He calls it “the most unbelievable picture that I will never forget.”
Marie grew up to become an international businessman, a bit of a jet-setting bachelor, and a raconteur with a French accent that remains as thick as a demi-glace.
Now a dual American and French citizen and a Roanoker, he counts many D-Day veterans among his friends. Friday at 6 p.m. at the Sheraton Inn, he will again honor them as guests at his 30th annual commemorative dinner, but his devotion runs much deeper than a free meal. Marie sits by these veterans’ death beds, speaks at their funerals, consoles their widows.
He’s worked to see about 100 of them recognized with the French Legion of Honor medal.
“This is a man that appreciates what happened over there,” said Don Englar of Blacksburg, a D-Day vet who will be the latest to receive the Legion of Honor at Marie’s dinner this year. “His feelings towards us, he keeps it on his cuff.”
Lee Boone of Hampton will also receive the Legion of Honor, along with Tyre Nicholson of North Carolina, who will receive it posthumously.
“My goal is not only to honor these guys, but my biggest problem is to be sure nobody is going to forget them,” said Marie, who turns 75 today.
His efforts bespeak the thanks of his native country, but also a deeply personal gratitude.
They changed the course of civilization and “saved the world from madness,” as Marie puts it. But they also changed his own future in a most intimate way.
“They gave me back my freedom, my father, my life.”
A widow with a secret
Marie had no memory of his father. Marcel Marie had gone away when his only child was just a year old, conscripted into the German labor force earlier in the war.
Just a year later, he escaped his work camp via Spain and made his way to England on a fishing boat, where he was an early member of the French Resistance.
While he was alive and well, few could know it.
Bernard Marie’s mother told everyone her husband was dead for the family’s safety. Surely the Germans would be brutal to them if they knew the family’s patriarch was in the resistance.
“So, my mother was a widow,” Marie said.
Food was scarce where the family lived near Paris, so in the fall of 1943 the family moved to the Marie family home in Luc Sur Mer.
There, Suzanne Marie had a channel through which she could keep tabs on her husband’s welfare: Father Paul.
Their Catholic priest was also a member of the resistance, Marie said. He would embed phrases in his sermons that were coded messages to Suzanne Marie. “When we arrive in heaven,” for example, meant Marcel Marie had parachuted into France, Marie said.
But Marcel Marie had no means of communicating directly to his wife, so he couldn’t tell her that in taking the family to the northern coast of France, she had moved them directly into the path of the largest seaborne invasion in history.
‘To get rid of the bad guys’
Sirens were common in Luc Sur Mer, waking families and sending them to the basement for safety, only to return to bed an hour later without a shell being fired.
When the Marie family took to the basement about 2 a.m. on June 6, 1944, the all clear never came.
They had no food or water, and soon the shelling began. It was brief but terrifying for little Bernard. It would be 16 hours before they emerged to see Suzanne Marie embracing the American soldier. The village, it turned out, was along the coast identified on invasion maps as being between Juno and Sword beaches.
The image of his mother hugging the soldier was confusing for Marie, who had learned that pretty much anybody in a uniform was bad. But the GIs gave him chocolate and chewing gum and families everywhere began to fly the French flag for the first time in years.
Marie’s mother told him, “Now you will never hear any more noise.”
The next day, Suzanne Marie visited Father Paul to learn that Marcel Marie had landed with the invasion and was on his way home. She returned to her family and told them her secret at last: Marcel was alive.
Four days later he arrived, a total stranger to his son. He took the boy on his knee while his mother held his hand and told him he had to “disappear to get rid of the bad guys.”
It was another decade before Bernard Marie demanded a more thorough explanation.
“The worst thing that can happen to a human being is to have your country taken over and lose your freedom,” he recalls his father saying. “For freedom, there’s only one thing you can do, and that’s to fight.”
‘That’s part of life’
Marie had been spoiled by his mother and aunts and grandparents. That changed when his loving but more discipline-minded father returned home later in 1944.
When Bernard Marie was a man himself and drafted into the French army to fight in Algeria, his father didn’t intervene despite having considerable influence in the French military.
In Algeria, the newest Marie to serve chose work as a combat engineer searching for land mines over searching for the enemy in caves — a residual fear from that harrowing night in the basement in 1944.
“I’m not comfortable in a dark room even now,” he said.
When he was blasted from the hood of a jeep he was riding on by a land mine, his father visited him in the hospital.
“Good job, you’re OK,” he said. “That’s part of life.”
Toughness was a valued trait among the Marie men, but with it ran a deep devotion to other men who also served.
All of Marie’s life, France ground to a halt every year in early June while the nation paused to thank their liberators and remember those who died in the service of it.
So when Marie arrived in the United States he was confused to find little such remembrance here at all.
From Normandy to Roanoke
Marie was living in Indianapolis and running a business magazine in the early 1980s when he decided more needed to be done to recognize World War II veterans, and D-Day vets in particular.
There was no National D-Day Memorial in Bedford or World War II Memorial in Washington then.
He decided to have a luncheon for them, which he’d pay for out of his own pocket. He called the newspaper, told them his story as a hook to promote the event, and figured 50 or 75 veterans would show up.
More than 500 came.
His father, still alive at the time, couldn’t make the trip from France but made sure his son delivered his gratitude for the liberation of France.
He also had a tongue-in-cheek question: “Why did you take so long?”
Marie continued the luncheon annually, eventually making it a dinner and taking it with him wherever he moved, hosting it in Charleston, South Carolina, Columbia, South Carolina, and Raleigh, North Carolina.
In the early 1990s, he was invited to speak at a D-Day anniversary recognition on the courthouse steps in Bedford.
From that visit, he became involved with the creation of the National D-Day Memorial in Bedford, mainly as a fundraiser. By then he was living in Fairfax, Virginia, and running a company that produced software to teach people foreign languages.
After so many trips to Bedford and visits to Roanoke, he decided to settle here. The dinner came with him, the first one taking place here in 2001.
‘He just blended in’
Today Marie lives in a small apartment in South Roanoke that’s like a three dimensional scrap book of his life. French and American flags stand behind a cluttered desk and amid crowded shelves of history books. The walls are covered in a mosaic of old family photos, war-time newspapers, pictures of him hang gliding and hanging out with race car drivers, and posters from plays he’s produced.
He’s become a fixture among area World War II vets since then.
“The fact that he’s from Normandy, he just blended in with our 29th Division Association,” said Chuck Neighbor, a D-Day vet. He’s among the men who received the Legion of Honor. His application for it “kind of floundered until Bernard got hold of it and pushed it through,” he said. “Apparently he has quite a standing with the French embassy.”
Marie confesses to being a pain in the neck for the French consulate.
Another friend, Hubert Hobbs, received the medal last year, just a few months before he passed away.
In Hobbs’ final days, with his wife, Mary, worn down from sleeping in a chair in his hospital room, Marie sent her home and held vigil all night by Hobbs’ bedside himself.
The two had “a very special relationship,” Mary Hobbs said. Sometimes when Hubert was refusing food, Marie could get him to eat when his wife couldn’t.
“I knew he had worked with the Red Cross, and I knew he loved the veterans, and I trusted him,” she said.
Hobbs died in February. Marie spoke at his funeral.
It’s one of seven he’s attended or spoken at for veteran friends just this year.
The number of veterans alive and able to attend his annual dinner is dwindling. Marie will continue to welcome all of them for the meal at his expense in the future, but it will be a dinner for the vets themselves, and not the general public, he says.
“He’s doing that all by himself, and it’s really more than he can handle, but he does it,” Neighbor said.
It’s not all about the dinner. Marie comes when called.
About two weeks before the dinner, Tracy Lintner called him from Salem, where Marie is a frequent substitute teacher.
Her grandfather, Robert Leech, a D-Day veteran, is deep in the grasp of dementia and seems to be living back in the 1940s in his mind. Some days he’s being drafted, other days he’s in a foxhole. Lately, he’d been asking repeatedly for his “star.” No one in the family was sure what it was, but they guessed it was a medal of some sort.
Lintner called Marie, unsure of what he could do.
Marie said the man will have his star.
In late May, he drove to Buena Vista to the nursing home where Leech is living. In a courtyard outside, he found Leech in his wheelchair wearing his World War II Veteran baseball cap. He held a small American flag.
Marie wore slacks, a shirt open at the collar and a blazer with an American flag pin in the lapel. He brought with him a leftover civilian medal he found in a desk drawer. It was made by the consul of Normandy to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the invasion.
He introduced himself to Leech as a citizen of France and Normandy, thanked him for his bravery, and pinned the medal to his sweater, just above his heart.
Then Marie knelt before Leech and kissed his hand.
As family pushed Leech back to his room after the ceremony, the old man began to sob, Lintner said.
That night, he fell asleep still wearing his medal.
BRITTANY GREESON | The Roanoke Times
Bernard Marie (right) hugs World War II veteran Hayden Furrow following a ceremony at the National D-Day Memorial in Bedford. Though too young to fight in WWII, Marie was drafted by France when he grew up and served in Algeria. His military service has helped him form a connection with the WWII veterans he cherishes and advocates for.