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Tender kiss as D-Day hero honoured

Published 20/02/2016

RAF veteran James McCune receives a kiss from his eight-year-old great-granddaughter Bethany at Thiepval Barracks in Lisburn on Tuesday, as he became one of 31 Northern Ireland veterans to receive the Legion d'Honneur - France's highest military decoration
RAF veteran James McCune receives a kiss from his eight-year-old great-granddaughter Bethany at Thiepval Barracks in Lisburn on Tuesday, as he became one of 31 Northern Ireland veterans to receive the Legion d'Honneur - France's highest military decoration

RAF veteran James McCune receives a kiss from his eight-year-old great-granddaughter Bethany at Thiepval Barracks in Lisburn on Tuesday, as he became one of 31 Northern Ireland veterans to receive the Legion d'Honneur - France's highest military decoration.

Some of the medals were awarded posthumously, but 15 servicemen - including James, who was accompanied by his family - were present to be honoured by French consul Regine McCullough for their roles in the 1944 D-Day landings.

The National Order of the Legion of Honour was established by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1802 as the highest military honour awarded by France.

The Master of the Order has always been the French head of state - emperor, king or president.

The current Master is President Francois Hollande, who appoints recipients and ordered these medals to be awarded after the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings two years ago.

The Normandy landings of Allied forces began on Tuesday, June 6, 1944 - commonly known as D-Day. It remains the largest seaborne invasion in history. More than 156,000 Allied troops landed on the beaches of Normandy from more than 5,000 boats.

The landings were originally planned for May 1 and then again for June 5, but were delayed by bad weather.

On the day, troops covered 50 miles of French coastline and had support from 11,000 aircraft.

Casualties were huge, with 4,400 Allied troops confirmed dead on the first day. Nonetheless, the operation began the liberation of German-occupied France and, by August 1944, there were two million Allied troops in Europe.

Ultimately, the invasion contributed directly to the Allied victory in Europe in 1945.

In Lisburn on Tuesday, veterans swapped stories of their roles during the invasion.

James McCune was serving in the RAF as a leading aircraft hand. He landed at Sword Beach from a tank landing craft. He was managing barrage balloons, but was quickly ordered to cut them loose once it was realised the enemy were using them to target the area.

For the remainder of the war, he travelled with his unit throughout Belgium, Holland and Germany before being demobilised.

KERRY McKITTRICK

Belfast Telegraph

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