D-Day veteran honors sacrifice of military brethren in Normandy

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BEDFORD, Va. (WDBJ7) Visitors to the D-Day Memorial Thursday might have noticed a medal hanging from one of the statues around the site.

The medal is a French Legion of Honor, originally given to D-Day veteran Ash Rothlein.

"I'm proud to have helped sponsor this statue," Ashlein said to a small crowd gathered around the D-Day Memorial's "Homage" statue.

Five years ago, Rothlein donated $25,000 to help build Homage, a monument dedicated to the Bedford Boys who fought and died on the beaches of Normandy.

When the statue was unveiled, Rothlein bequeathed his French Legion of Honor medal to the Bedford Boys and all those who died on D-Day.

"It remains permanently enshrined here at the memorial and is placed on the helmet of Homage every D-Day," Rothlein said.

While he has no formal connection to Bedford, Rothlein has dedicated his time and money toward preserving the memory of the Bedford Boys and honoring people in the town.

On Thursday he Lucille Boggess, a longtime Bedford leader who lost two brothers during the Normandy invasion. The recognition happened in front of military representatives from England, Belgium, and France, including Colonel Benjamin Vinot Prefontaine of the NATO Allied Command.

"France and the USA are the oldest allies in the free world," Vinot Prefontaine told WDBJ7. "We went to Yorktown to help free you from the English and you helped us to free our country from the Germans."

Rothlein, now in his mid-90's, is one of a dwindling number of D-Day veterans. He felt it was important to recognize his brethren at Thursday's ceremony, knowing it could be the last major D-Day commemoration with living veterans in attendance who took part in the operation.