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'France has not forgotten': Consul general awards Legion of Honor to 103-year-old D-Day veteran

The Record-Eagle - 1/31/2024

Jan. 30—TRAVERSE CITY — France has not forgotten Dick Grout nor the men with whom he stood shoulder-to-shoulder and fought alongside when he landed on D-Day.

His children and their spouses by his side, Grout looked out at the dozens of people who gathered Tuesday in Kirkbride Hall to see the Honorable Yannick Tagand, France's General Counsel to the Midwest, bestow upon him the French Legion of Honor for his part in France's liberation in World War II.

"Thank you, thank you for all of you here," Grout said. "It's a humbling experience for me to have so many people come out ... and I'm happy to say that I think I can call almost all of you by name."

Tagand presented France's highest honor on behalf of its President Emmanuel Macron and a nation that will remain eternally grateful for Grout's actions — and the high cost to those he fought alongside.

"Mr. Grout, thanks to your continued determination and bravery, you and your companions had restored hope to millions of people, hope that had been crushed by intolerance, violence and the tyranny of the Nazis," Tagand said. "You're part of the greatest generation, an exceptional generation of men and women who have put their ideals, their might and their courage to the service of democracy and to the dignity of humankind."

That liberation meant Tagand was born in a free country, one that's been at peace for nearly 80 years, he said. And while France and the U.S. have been through some political spats, the friendship between both nations endures, and the French people won't forget what they owe Grout and all his fellow countrymen.

Elders in France remind the younger generations as much, said Francois Mouzard, Grout's son-in-law. He was the master of ceremonies and was born in Paris nearly three years after D-Day, and fought back tears in telling the audience how the fighting that day began the freeing of his birth country.

Grout, for his part, felt something like embarrassment to be singled out for an award that many others deserve, he said prior to a ceremony he would have just as soon skipped.

That wasn't his sentiment Tuesday, according to Donna Mouzard, Grout's daughter and Francois' wife.

"It went well, and Dad ... I was sitting next to him, and he seemed happy with this even though he hates to be singled out and honored, he likes to honor other people," she said.

Grout landed at Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944, with a platoon of 112th Engineer Combat Battalion soldiers under his command. After several hours under heavy fire, they blew up a stone wall blocking a lane off the beach and toward higher ground. He continued through northern France, clearing the way for the Allied advance by building or fixing bridges, among other tasks. He was wounded near Malmedy, Belgium, in the early stages of the Battle of the Bulge — the end of his combat.

Making it through D-Day meant fighting through a battlefield that Mike Lehnert, a retired U.S.Marine Corps Major General and a Williamsburg resident, called "as bad as it could get" for the Allies. The fellow combat engineer described how the seaside cliffs made an ideal defensive perch for the Germans.

"Dick won't tell you much of that," Lehnert said. "He says he isn't a hero. Dick, it may be the only thing we disagree on."

Dick's son, Doug Grout, said his dad spoke very little of his service until later in life, after his children had moved out. So when their dad started sharing his experiences, Doug and his siblings — now in their 70s — heard much of it for the first time.

"I think we're as proud of him as everyone else seems to be up here, but we're coming to it late, because we weren't told of this 60 years ago," Doug said before the ceremony.

That pride goes well beyond Dick's military service, Doug said. He and his siblings consider themselves fortunate to have such a good father, one who passed on the better parts of himself.

Jim Bensley told the audience how Dick Grout's recounting his experience impacted his class at Northwestern Michigan College. The veteran told them about D-Day a few months before they visited the beaches, and the grave of another member of the 112th Combat Battalion. Three of those students were moved enough to write a letter to Major William Richards, thanking him for his service and sacrifice, then leaving it at Richards' grave.

Any U.S. veteran who took part in Normandy or three other major campaigns in France during World War II can receive the French Legion of Honor, according to the French Embassy in the U.S. Many have, including D-Day veteran Gerald Hammond of Beulah in 2013, four years before his death.

Tagand said afterward it's important to recognize Grout and others like him in 2024, not just because it's the year of the 80th anniversary of D-Day but because there's war in Europe. Both France and the U.S. are supporting Ukraine's fight against the Russian invasion, and Tagand hopes both countries can stick together in that fight.

Francois was born to parents who both lived in occupied Paris during the war, and who owned a home near the beaches in Normandy where D-Day took place, he said before the ceremony. Trips in his youth to visit the museums and cemeteries there were a part of his family's culture.

So too were the stories Francois' father told. He was a multilingual hotel concierge and had to work as a translator for the German troops staying there.

Francois and Donna met at a school in Glasgow, where both were working as teachers, he said earlier. It was a chance meeting, since Dick Grout married a Scottish woman he met while training during the invasion, and Donna went to Scotland for a year since she had many relatives there.

As for Francois, he graduated from Sorbonne University and, to become a teacher of French as a second language, he needed to do his thesis in an English-speaking country. So he picked Scotland, a choice that led him to his future wife.

"If it hadn't been for Dick landing in Normandy, my life would've been totally different," Francois said Monday. "His action really impacted my life and my family in a huge way."

That profound impact is part of what drove Francois to submit Grout's name for the Legion of Honor, including tracking down the necessary paperwork and answering the French Consul General's follow-ups.

After a ceremony complete with the flag presented by Coast Guard Air Station Traverse City's color guard, the national anthem sung by Grout's fellow Cordia residents and an invocation by the Rev. Robin Carden of Suttons Bay Congregational Church, Dick Grout sat and grinned as well-wishers shook his hand and posed for snapshots with the newest Knight of the French Legion of Honor. He echoed how humbled he was to see so many familiar faces that day.

Francois said he was "flabbergasted" by the turnout to pay tribute to his father-in-law, and agreed it was a fantastic day for Dick Grout and his family.

"It will be a day we'll remember for the rest of our lives," he said.


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