Irish WWII D-Day Vet Pat Gillen Honored with France’s Highest Accolade

Irish native and WWII D-Day vet Pat Gillen was recently honored with France’s highest accolade – the Legion d”Honneur – for his brave feats during the Second World War operations. Pat is one of the few surviving D-Day vets hailing from the Republic of Ireland.

D-Day vet Pat Gillen was among the first wave of the Allied troops which invaded Sword Beach situated at the coast of Normandy on June 6, 1944. Th republic might have remained neutral throughout WWII but many Irishmen had signed up for the war in the British Army and he was one of them.

The honor was presented to the now 89-year-old war veteran in a County Cork hospital where he is currently admitted for treatment as he is suffering from ill health.

The award was given to him on behalf of France by Jean-Pierre Thebault, the French Ambassador to Ireland. Irish Defense Minister Simon Coveney was also present for the ceremony which was held in the hospital where Pat Gillen is currently in.

Upon accepting the said accolade, D-Day vet Pat Gillen dedicated it to his Irish comrades who fought during the Second World War. He said in his speech that he accepts the Legion d”Honneur with his Irish fellowmen in mind — the young and brave ones who had to lay down their lives to pursue peace in those troubled times.

His Story

Pat Gillen recounted how he landed on French soil along with the other Allied soldiers seventy years ago. The landing on Sword Beach was the first time he had stepped on a part of France.

The veteran said that God’s grace had sustained him from that point until the end but sadly, many of his friends did not survive the war and were laid in the fields of France.

Pat Gillen added that he felt honored being a recipient of France’s highest accolade, the Chevalier de la Legion d’Honneur, which was conferred to him by the French president himself along with the government of the said country.

He divulged that he planned to return to Normandy this year for D-Day’s 70th anniversary but his failing health had prevented him from undertaking the journey there.

In spite of that, he commemorated the operation and remembered his fallen comrades through a handwritten note he had placed on a wreath. His message went to say: In memory of all commandos from the emerald island who lie in sleep in Normandy fields.

The wreath had been handmade by Mary, his daughter, and was made up of poppies along with the Irish tricolor.

The French embassy had written beforehand to him informing him about the coming award.

Pat Gillen had served as a rifleman and was part of a commando unit responsible for securing the Pegasus Bridge near Caen, a strategically vital point for the operation.

Pat Gillen was able to survive a six-mile trek to Pegasus from Sword Beach and weeks staying in the trenches without sustaining one injury.

Heziel Pitogo

Heziel Pitogo is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE