Nearly 75 years after his participation in World War II, a Pittsburgh veteran got his just honors at an international ceremony Thursday in Washington, D.C., as a gesture of gratitude for his contributions to the liberation of France.
Henry Parham, who has been named a Chevalier of the Legion of Honor, was honored for his service during the war, receiving the medal at the French Embassy at the 69th D-Day Anniversary ceremony.
The Legion of Honor is the highest decoration in France, and Chevalier is the highest degree of five that can be bestowed.
“I am excited and really looking forward to it. I really don’t know what to say,” Parham, 91, said before the ceremony. “It was quite an experience, but I got through it and I’m proud of it.”
Parham was 21 when he enlisted and served with the 320th Anti-Aircraft Artillery Balloon Barrage Battalion, an all-Black unit, and was among thousands of Allied troops who landed at Normandy, France, to liberate Western Europe from years of occupation by the Nazi regime of Adolf Hitler.
The 621-man assault force, the only Black combat unit to take part in the D-Day invasion that started on June 6, 1944, was responsible for protecting reinforcements and supplies arriving at Omaha Beach, one of five landing areas along the French coastline, against enemy aircraft. The Army Air Corp unit deployed very low attitude barrage balloons to thwart aerial attacks.
Parham said his five-man unit worked from dust until dawn using the hydrogen-filled obstacles to shield the beachhead from strafing German warplanes and stayed on the beach for 68 days.
According to previous reports, after leaving Normandy, Parham went on to protect Gen. George Patton’s army unit in Sherburne, France. He was discharged Nov. 13, 1945.
To commemorate his achievement, Parham was joined by his wife of 39 years, Ethel, and four of their family members.
“We’re excited,” said Ethel Parham before the ceremony. “I thank God he’s alive to witness this after 69 years. This is a special occasion.”
Besides receiving his medal, Parham said he was also looking forward to visiting two D.C. attractions: the World War II Memorial and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, which he will see for the first time.
He joked that his honors could lead to his involvement in a movie.
Parham has also received a commemorative medal for the 50th Anniversary of D-Day.