Henry Parham is one of the last surviving African-American D-Day combat veterans.
More than 65 years after his participation of service in World War II, Parham — of Pittsburgh, Penn. — received his due honors at an international ceremony in Washington, D.C., as a gesture of gratitude for his personal contributions to the liberation of France. He was named a “Chevalier” of the Legion of Honor for his dedication and service in World War II when he received the award June 6, 2013 at the French Embassy in Washington, D.C., at the 69th D-Day Anniversary ceremony. The same ceremony took place today in Normancy, France, with five other D-Day veterans receiving the same honor.
The Legion of Honor is the highest decoration in France and Chevalier is the highest degree of five that can be awarded.
“I am excited and really looking forward to it. I really don’t know what to say,” said Parham, who is now 97. “It was quite an experience, but I got through it and I’m proud of it.”
Parham, who was 21 when he was enlisted in the military, served in the 320th Anti-Aircraft Artillery Balloon Barrage Battalion, an all Black unit trained for the Invasion of Normandy, France, to aid in the Allied liberation of Europe. His unit, the only Black combat unit to take part in the D-Day invasion, was responsible for protecting Omaha Beach, one of five landing areas during the invasion, and the American aircraft responsible for bringing reinforcements and supplies to the troops. They also employed barrage balloons against enemy aicraft.
His five-man unit flew from dust until dawn and stayed on the beach for 68 days. According to previous reports, after leaving Normandy, Parham went on to protect General George Patton’s army in Sherburne, France. He was discharged Nov. 13, 1945.