SKOWHEGAN — More than 60 years after storming Utah Beach on D-Day on June 6, 1944, Skowhegan native Armand E. Poirier has been inducted into the French Legion of Honor.

“Your decision to fight for freedom during World War II was an admirable act, demonstrating your courage and selflessness,” the counsul general of France wrote to Poirier in October. “The solidarity you lent our country and people … will never be forgotten, and be assured that we are eternally grateful. Without your bravery and that of those who fought alongside you, France and Europe might have never been liberated form the barbarity of Nazi occupation.”

The French Legion of Honor is that nation’s highest honor and was created in 1802 by Napoleon Bonaparte.

Poirier, who was a U.S. Army field medic, was named a chevalier, or knight, one of five ranks in the order. When displayed, the medal is worn on the left breast suspended from ribbon.

“It was late coming — but I guess we had it coming a long time ago,” Poirier said in a telephone interview from his winter home in Zephyrhills, Fla. “I’m very proud of it.”

Poirier, 87, served in five major battles of the war, including the Battle of the Bulge in France, Belgium and Luxembourg, from December 1944 to January 1945. He also served in the battle of Nuremberg, the crossing of the Rhine River and was among the first Allied forces to liberate German concentration camps, including notorious Dachau and Auschwitz, Poirier says in an interview on the documentary video “World War II — In Their Own Words” by Larry Martin.

Poirier was taken as a prisoner of war briefly by the Germans in an ambush crossing the Rhine into Germany in 1945. He escaped and wandered — missing in action — with three other soldiers for 55 days before rejoining his unit on the front lines.

As an Army medic, Poirier and the doctors in his unit treated French civilians, along with American and German soldiers.

“The priority was the worst came first,” Poirier says in the documentary interview. “There was kind of an understanding that we treated German soldiers — the doctors went according to their oath. It wasn’t uncommon to work around the clock.”

Poirier, who worked in shoe shops and machine shops when he returned to Maine at the close of the war, said he suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder for all that he saw. He said after one major battle, bodies were piled up like cord wood.

But it was the concentration camps and the civilian causalities that got to him the most, he said.

“I saw Auschwitz and I saw Dachau; the gas chambers, the crematoriums … with the 4th Army, 16th Field Hospital. We all seen it. Ditches 150 yards long were filled with bodies.”

He said it is the death of a young French girl, maybe 10 or 12 years old, whose house had been booby-trapped by the Germans, that stays with him to this day.

“The was on D-Day, the very first day and the story was when she went to go home and when she opened the door it had been booby-trapped and it blew up in her face,” Poirier said.

“I could speak French quite fluently at that time so the major suggested I go and see her and talk with her a little while. She died that night. Beautiful little girl.

“I had six sisters and some of them were the same age as she was by then. It gave me a lot to think about. I never forgot that little girl.”

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

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