France honors 10 local WWII veterans

Posted at 6:08 PM, Jul 26, 2016
and last updated 2016-07-26 21:08:07-04

In a rare ceremony, France honored 10 southern California World War II veterans decades after their actions.

They were awarded the Legion of Honor Medal, which is France's highest honor.

Standing is not easy when you are closing in one 100, but they are patriots, so they slowly got up for the National Anthem.

It looked agonizing for one vet, who even fell back, but mustered enough strength to get back up and put his hand over his heart.

They were hailed as heroes at the Veterans Museum in Balboa park for saving lives, leveling enemies and helping restore freedom for France.

"I didn't think we'd ever get this kind of recognition," said 98-year-old Freelin Carlton.

Carlton flew 25 high-risk missions.

"In my last mission, there was no chance we were going to get out of it," Carlton said.

He was headed for France.

"I took a hit in the left engine," he explained.

He said more rounds ripped through the back of his B-24.

"I sent Mac, my engineer, to the back. He came back, and he says, 'They're all gone Captain.'"

"I still feel bad about that," he said with a quiver in his voice as he hung his head.

When enemy fire took out a five-foot chunk of his left wing, he was the last one to jump out.

"The shoot opened, and I stopped immediately in the trees," Carlin explained.

He said Germans surrounded him with rifles and took him as a prisoner of war.

He remembers seeing people killed in front of him and eating scant rations of rotten food.

"It makes a patriot out of you to go through something like that," he added with a sniffle.