As a young girl, Nancy Pitman can remember seeing the American flag hung from a post in her front yard, placed there by her father many years ago.
On Monday, with the flag still swaying back and forth in the wind outside of his home, Pitman’s father, Homer J. Smith, was awarded the French Legion of Honor Medal for the time he spent in that country serving the same American flag he has proudly presented at his home for decades.
Smith volunteered to enter WWII at the age of 18, and joined the 275th Regiment, 70th Infantry Division.
In Dec. of 1944, Smith found himself stepping off a boat in Marseilles, France. After his arrival, Smith was left without a platoon commander after he had been killed in action, and a company commander who had been shot and seriously wounded.
The young soldier was stranded with his fellow troops without water, food, or any means of communication to call for help.
With only 12 soldiers and himself, the men traveled by foot through the snow, where they engaged in a fight with enemy forces. The fight was later known to be a small part of the Vosges Mountain Campaign, one of the most intense battles of WWII.
During the fight Smith was captured, and the remaining six men in his company (Bravo Company) were taken as POWs to a camp that would later become known as one of the cruelest camps during the war -- Stalag IX-B, at Bad Orb, Germany.
Smith was later separated from his small group of survivors and sent to Stalag 4B in Muhlberg, Germany. It was there that he would wait until the war concluded, facing malnutrition, disease and wounds after being abandoned by German guards that fled from American forces.
After the war, Smith spent a considerable time recovering in the hospital, and was honorably discharged Dec. 6, 1945.
Today, Smith enjoys life with his wife, Catherine, and his three children in Dothan. Monday, he accepted the French Legion of Honor Medal for his sacrifice for his country from State Rep. Paul Lee.
An accompanying letter from the Consul General expresses appreciation for Smith's role in the war.
"With endless respect and affection, in recognition of your noble contribution during World War II and in remembrance of those who sacrificed their lives for the cause, please allow me to use this opportunity to express my deepest gratitude to you for your invaluable contribution to the liberation of my country, France," the letter states.
A formal medal ceremony is scheduled for later in France, but Smith cannot attend due to poor health. His medal was mailed along with the letter.
An emotional Lee read the letter from the French Consulate, honoring Smith for his sacrifices. Pitman listened to Lee with a sense of pride.
“If there was one thing I would like the community to know about my father, it’s that he is the most honest and humble man I have ever known. He is just a man that is proud of his country through and through. There’s not a day he hasn’t had that flag up,” Pitman said.