(NORMANDY, France) -- Before this week, Stan Friday had not been back to Normandy, France, since he and Allied forces stormed its beaches to liberate Europe from Nazi Germany.
For years, the World War II veteran would not talk about what he'd seen 75 years ago on June 6, 1944, also known as D-Day.
This week, Friday, 96, of Pennsborg, Pennsylvania, packed his things, however, and then traveled with a group of U.S. World War II veterans to Normandy for the 75th anniversary of D-Day as the world and its leaders prepared to honor them and pay tribute to the fallen.
And, in a surprise to Friday on Thursday, French President Emmanuel Macron awarded him and four other U.S. veterans the Legion d’honneur, France’s highest award for merit.
"We know what we owe to you, veterans," said Macron who marked the anniversary with U.S. President Donald Trump."Our freedom. On behalf of my nation, I just want to say thank you."
On D-Day, Friday was F-5, 3rd Army, 80th division. An Army scout, Friday went far out ahead of the rest after D-Day to scope out the danger and witnessed two Nazi concentration camps before they were liberated.
More than 156,000 Allied troops came ashore that fateful day and more than 4,000 had been killed as they reached 50 miles of Normandy coastline. Of the Allied troops who'd died on D-Day, 2,501 were Americans, including Friday's friend.
"The medic that took care of him before he died wanted to know if I was all right, while he was dying," Friday told ABC News. "That’s how close we were."
Friday fought all through France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany and Austria. He was also charged with being ahead of the division, locating enemy troops, obstacles and determining enemy strength. He had a few hand-to-hand combat experiences and did many nighttime missions.
Friday, who grew up in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, and had also been given a Bronze Star, said the French honor was for all the brothers he'd lost in the war.
Friday told ABC News on Thursday that the moment had been "thrilling, like a dream."
"The medal part is (for) the guys that's out there. They're the heroes. .... I represent them," he said.
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