Rene Karat proudly wearing the military honor which he received at a ceremony on board a ship at Haifa

In June 2014 Europe celebrated the 70th Anniversary of D-Day, commemorating the Allied invasion of Normandy in 1944. It was at that time of the historic and nostalgic recall of the importance of the event that the French Government decided that the veterans of the D-Day landings should be honored with the award – Ordre national de la Légion d'honneur. This is the highest French award for military and civil merits, and was established in 1802 by Napoleon Bonaparte.

The British Ministry of Defense issued application forms, and details submitted had to be carefully authenticated and legitimized. When such applications were approved by the British Government, the claims were forwarded to the French Government.  D-Day landings involved three beaches and many thousands of soldiers. The French authorities were overwhelmed with the number of applications received from many countries, and work began on approving the applications. And so time passed.

Rene Karat, resident of Beth Protea retirement home in Herzliya, was one of those veterans. He submitted his application, awaiting a response, but two years went by and nothing happened. He had almost forgotten about the application, but his son in England chased the trail, connected with the right people and motivated action, encouraging them to hasten the procedure, bearing in mind his father's advanced age.

In due course a letter arrived informing Rene that his application was successful, and explaining that a military decoration issued by France required that the award be presented on French territory. Rene would be required to come to Haifa where a French battleship would be docked in July and in November. Which date would he prefer? Well, Rene with his ever-present sense of humor reacted to this request in typical fashion by saying he was now no longer 94 but 96, in fact 96 and a half years old, and he was anxious to receive the award in his lifetime rather than posthumously, so he suggested the earlier date as more suitable. Shortly afterwards, an official invitation arrived in the post from Captain Laurent Sudrat of the Landing Helicopter Dock French Battleship Tonnerre, requiring him to attend a ceremony on board the ship to honor him with this award at 5.30pm on July 10th 2016.

It was a wonderful occasion. Some 150 people attended the ceremony on board the ship docked in Haifa. The military attaches of various embassies were present as well as officials of the French Embassy. Captain and crew were charming hosts. Visitors were taken on a guided tour of this impressive and beautiful ship, treated to cocktails on board and then piped into a reception room for the ceremony.

Came the moment and the Captain read an impressive and personal citation incorporating many of the highlights in Rene's life, with particular reference to his military involvement and successful career, where he ultimately served as a gunner officer in the Royal Artillery Military Regiment. Came the D-Day landing on Omaha beach in Normandy on June 6th 1944 and the subsequent battles on European soil where he excelled on the battlefield. It was on June 19th, just a few weeks after the landing that Rene was critically injured on the field. He was left for dead while the battle raged on, and only three days later he was identified as still living, taken to a French field hospital and then transferred by ship to England. He survived intricate surgery and many months of treatment, but his life changed completely. He got a medical discharge from the military. His injuries did not allow him to return to his medical studies and he changed to dentistry, which proved an excellent alternative as time went by, ultimately allowing him to achieve his ambition of one day running a dental practice on Harley Street – which he did successfully for 37 years until his retirement.   

The Captain's citation ended with these words:

"Dr Karat, for your commitment and your bravery, for your actions on D-Day and the following days, I am honored to reward you with the medal of the Legion d'honneur."

And with that the Commanding officer of the LHD French Battleship Tonnerre, Captain Laurent Sudrat, pinned the medal on Dr Karat's lapel.

Memories of the war have faded for Rene in the 70 years that have passed. Images do appear fleetingly but mostly unconnected to emotional responses. What is left today is the reality of the military cemeteries on the battlefields of yore. The gravestones, with the ages of the soldiers who had died in battle, tell the tales of heartache and loss. Young boys, many still teenagers, had lost their lives and were deprived of any future – it will always be hard to come to terms with that. A heavy price is paid in war.

As for this award, Rene admits that in times gone by it would have served as an introduction to higher opportunities. Now at 96 years old, Rene adds the medal to the many other medals, ribbons and awards he has accumulated in his lifetime – and hopes that one day his grandchildren will be able to show their friends this prestigious medal and will introduce his achievement to them by saying:

 "Our Granddad was conferred with this, the highest military medal to be awarded by France when he was made a Chevalier of the Legion d'honneur."

And that, after all, is certainly something to be very proud of.

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Lynette Karp

Today a resident of Kfar Saba, Lynette and her husband Matthew came on aliyah from South Africa in 2008. A Nursery school teacher by profession. A writer and communicator by passion. Today a voluntee...

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