Monday, September 27, 2010
Honoring My Dad
One of the best things about blogging is the opportunity to record family moments for posterity, and that's what I'm doing today. Some of you have already seen the pics on Facebook, and some will not be interested; that's OK. Our browsing time is limited, so I'm not upset if you don't read and comment; I'm recording this mainly for my family in the future.
May my children and grandchildren and maybe even great-grandchildren read this post and be filled with pride to know their grandfather was an honorable man both in his spirit and in his behavior. His life has been an honorable one, so this is quite touching to me on more than a patriotic level.
Last Monday, my family gathered in a small county courthouse room to witness my father, Virgil (Bud) Batt, a WWII Veteran, receive the Légion d'honneur Chevalier medal, awarded by the President of the French Republic. The medal, created by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1802, is the highest honor bestowed by the French government. It is the equivalent of the US Medal of Honor.
Here are two of my three handsome brothers with my parents: Don, the youngest of the three, is on the left. He is a golfer. He is tall. He once zipped me up in a sleeping bag, but I forgive him, sort of. The other is my middle brother, Jack. Larry, the eldest, moved to this row later, but I did not get a pic.
After the ceremony, we all went out to dinner and shared this special cake. That is a pic of Dad when he was in service. He was about 21 there, I think.
Here is Dad with my three children. Katie, 24; Jordan, 21; Kristin, 17.
Here is Dad receiving the medal from President Todd Donati.
And here he is with the medal.
And here is the piece written by John Carlson for the Muncie Star Press, published September 21, 2010. I am grateful to Mr. Carlson for such a poignant article.
Pass Virgil Batt on the street, and you might not give him a second glance. Though tall and distinguished looking, he's a soft-spoken, unassuming man whose step has undoubtedly been slowed by the passage of 88 years.
But like countless members of his generation who fought for the United States and its Allies in World War ll, you'll be passing a quiet hero who served his country and, indeed, the world, at a time when it faced a fate that was nothing less that catastrophic.
And that explains why, with a letter read by President Todd Donati at a meeting of the Delaware County commissioners Monday night, Batt was made a Knight of the Legion of Honor, the highest award France can bestow upon those who came to its rescue so long ago.
"It means a lot to me," Batt said, simply, as he delivered a few remarks to gathered family members, friends and folks from his church, New Horizon Church of the Nazarene, where a Bible study was canceled so they could attend the ceremony.
Batt learned he was nominated for the medal -- which was created in 1802 by none other than Napoleon Bonaparte --- when he was contacted by French embassies in Washington, D.C., and Chicago beginning about eight months ago.
In the letter from Chicago's French consul general, Graham Paul explained the reason.
"Through this award," he wrote, "the French government pays tribute to the soldiers who did so much for France and Western Europe. More than 65 years ago, you gave your youth to France and the French people. Many of your fellow soldiers did not return, but they remain in our hearts.
"Thanks to the courage of these soldiers, to our American friends and Allies, France has been living in peace for six decades. They saved us and we will never forget. I want you to know that for us, the French people, they are heroes. Gratitude and remembrance are forever in our souls."
It was a poignant moment.
Early on, the road to Monday night's high honor led the boy from a separated family through Wilson Junior High School, after which he dropped out to go to work as a furniture mover during the Great Depression years.
In its own way, such labor offered him a higher education.
"Those Ball State pianos were rough!" he said with a quiet chuckle in an interview that was conducted last week, discussing the effort required to move them.
It was 1941 when he married a neighbor girl, now his wife of 68 years, Delphia Lucille Batt, and 1942 when he was drafted, ending up in an Army anti-tank outfit.
Like so many of his generation, Batt is hardly an effusive speaker when asked about his war experiences, though he'll admit he can talk about them today easier than he could back when the memories were fresher.
Did he see extensive combat?
"Pretty good," he answered, affirmatively.
A Jeep driver and radio man in a platoon that hauled and manned three tank-killing cannons, he recalled situations he thought he wouldn't survive, and even the very first time he prayed in combat, finding himself in a knocked out American half-track in which he believed he'd met his end.
"I'm a strong believer in prayer," Batt continued.
He's a believer in forgiveness, too.
"I felt sorry for the French," he said, noting how the war ravaged their country. "But I even felt sorry for the German people. Germany was pretty well beat up, too, when we got done with them."
Besides returning from war with his faith intact, he also had a number of citations, including a Bronze Star and a Presidential Unit Citation for action that his 3rd Platoon engaged in from March 6-7, 1945. Those and other medals are framed in his home now.
The father of four doesn't need them, however, to stir his war memories. The veterans' graves at Beech Grove Cemetery, where a cousin who was killed in the Pacific is buried, will do it.
So will a quick trip up north from here.
"I tell you," said Batt, who continued with a career in the freight and transport business after the war. "When I go to the veterans hospital in Marion and I pass that military graveyard, I think (to myself) how lucky you are."
At Monday night's ceremony, though, we in the audience applauded Batt and all the others like him, and knew that we are the truly lucky ones.