World War II veteran John Glaser doesn't consider himself a hero.
"I did what I was told. I was scared. I can never understand how anyone over there says they were brave," the 97-year-old Williamsburg veteran said of his service as a medic in the 111th Field Artillery of the Army's 29th Infantry Division.
John Glaser received a medal and became a Knight in France's National Order of the Legion of Honour Friday for his part in the Liberation of France, including D-Day and the Battle of Normandy. Being made a Knight, or Chevalier, is the group's highest honor.
The medal was presented by Michel Charbonnier, the general consul of France for Virginia, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Maryland, at the Hampton Inn and Suites. The Legion was formed by Napoleon Bonaparte on May 19, 1802 to honor soldiers and civilians who showed immense bravery during war or great achievements during times of peace, according to the Encyclopædia Britannica.
Glaser is one of 15 World War II veterans to receive the honor in Virginia, said Nicole Yancey, former French consul for the commonwealth.
"All of those men are heroes," Yancey said of the 16.1 million Americans who fought in World War II.
"Those men were so young. They were kids. Some were petrified with fear ... but they (fought) in such a courageous way," she added.
Glaser, originally from Yorktown, was 23 years old when he was drafted into the Army on April 12, 1941.
His father was drafted into World War I before him and also fought in France.
"It was a rite of manhood," said Robert Glaser, John Glaser's 69-year-old son. "It was what you were expected to do."
John Glaser remembers the words of English General Bernard Montgomery to soldiers before they invaded Normandy on April 6, 1944.
"If you don't make it, you are paving the way for those behind you," the general said.
John Glaser remembers the confusion surrounding soldiers arriving in Normandy on D-Day.
The weather, which created high tides 12-feet deeper than usual, delayed his ship, which he believes saved his life.
Soldiers coming off of boats in Normandy were told to run off the beach and toward the rock bank.
John Glaser ran as fast as he could until a commanding officer yelled for him to stop because he'd wandered into a land-mine field.
Paralyzed with fear, he turned around to find a soldier who was running behind him face down in the field dead.
That wasn't the first or last time John Glaser faced death.
As a medic who was responsible for patching wounded soldiers before they went into surgery, he saw friends, comrades and commanders die regularly.
"There were times you would see new people come into a unit, and they would be there for a week or a day," Robert Glaser said, jumping in to help tell his father's story.
John Glaser remembers draining the boils on a man who was doused with gasoline, and packing his wounds with wet towels and disinfectant. He dressed bullet holes and tended land mine wounds. Some of the men didn't survive.
Sometimes he wonders how he survived.
"I don't know how we ever made it," he said of himself and others who saw the end of the war.
His son believes it just wasn't his father's time to die.
"The men that were there, they were all regular guys from small towns and small cities," Robert Glaser said. "They were ordinary men doing extraordinary things."
Mayfield can be reached at 757-298-5828.
To see pictures of John Glaser during World War II, and pictures and a video of him receiving his medal from the French Legion of Honour, visit vagazette.com.