By MADDY VITALE
Francis X. McCormac is a U.S. Army veteran – and the Ocean City resident is one of a dwindling number of servicemen still alive who fought valiantly in World War II.
At 99 years old, McCormac said in an interview Tuesday he still feels pretty good, as he lounged on the deck of his daughter Maureen’s resort home while awaiting the arrival of some important people.
Members of the French Consulate were en route to present him with the highest honor – a Chevalier (Knight) of France’s National Order of the Legion of Honor. The award was for McCormac’s service from 1942-45 as a signal corpsman, most notably during the D-Day invasion of Omaha Beach in Normandy.
It is an honor given to civilians or military members, created in 1802 by Napoleon to recognize men and women who have accomplished exceptional deeds for France and its people.
The honor was bestowed upon McCormac during a ceremony in the backyard of his daughter’s home, as he was surrounded by family and friends.
The decorated serviceman, who was a sergeant, spoke a bit about life, but just not of the war.
“I don’t talk about it,” McCormac said as he tugged on his patriotic face covering. “I’m just glad I made it – that’s all. I don’t talk about it, but I’m proud that I served my country.”
Yet he still thinks about WWII nearly every day of his life, he said.
Video courtesy of Kay Jacob’s Facebook page.
Among those in attendance at the ceremony were Congressman Jeff Van Drew, Ocean City Mayor Jay Gillian, City Council members, American Legion Post 524 Commander Bob Marzulli, other veterans and members of the French Consulate.
McCormac described what the honor means to him.
“I am overwhelmed,” he said. “It means a lot to me. I never expected anything like this. I thought it was all gone – it was 75 years ago – but it came up again.”
Consul General of France Anne-Claire Legendre pinned the medal onto McCormac’s shirt. He looked down at the pin, then to the crowd, and gave a thumb’s up.
In a portion of Legendre’s speech, she said, “Mr. McCormac, you put your life at great risk to help liberate my country and the world from the terrors of Nazism. You were very young, and you probably knew very little about France or Europe.”
She continued, “Yet you were prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice, thousands of miles away from your family, your home and your friends.”
McCormac entered the service in Massachusetts and was then shipped out to Scotland. From there, he landed on Omaha Beach, followed by deployments to Belgium and Germany, including for the Battle of the Bulge, according to a news release.
During the Battle of the Bulge, McCormac’s Northern France radio relay unit informed U.S. Army units of the Nazis ruse of dressing in GI uniforms and posing as Military Police to misdirect Allied troops. Those messages were critical in stopping the Nazi efforts.
In 2004, on the 60th anniversary of D-Day, then-French President Jacques Chirac decided to honor all American WWII veterans who had fought on French soil, including McCormac.
Other awards were also presented to McCormac during Tuesday’s ceremony. The mayor presented McCormac with a ceremonial key to the city.
“Thank you for everything. You humble me,” Gillian said.
Marzulli handed McCormac a letter and a special membership card to the American Legion Post 524.
Tom Tumelty, a trustee from Post 524, began the process to make the French honor possible. McCormac’s daughter, Maureen, of Ocean City, also helped. She filled out the forms and Tumelty sent them off to be reviewed by the French Consulate.
Within weeks, they received notification that the veteran would indeed receive the honor, Tumelty said.
McCormac, a father of seven, grandfather to 11 and great-grandfather to 15, is humble about his service. He married Esther McQuillan and they were together for 70 years before her death in 2016.
And if he doesn’t sing his own praises, that is OK.
His record of service is indelibly imprinted in history. He received the European African Middle Eastern Service Ribbon, the Good Conduct Medal and the Meritorious Unit Award.
After his military service, he went on to have a career as an inspector for a TV and radio company.
City Council President Bob Barr summed up during some remarks as he presented a proclamation on behalf of City Council to McCormac. He spoke of what he believed McCormac represented Tuesday and what the nearly centenarian means to society.
“You are the embodiment of the American spirit,” Barr said. “You are a true hero. Know that we appreciate you and we love you and thank you for all you have done.”