published Thursday, March 8th, 2012

France honors local D-Day vet Murel Winans

Murel Winans was a U.S. Navy corpsman, a veteran of the D-Day invasion as well as the Pacific campaign. He also served in the Korean conflict. He and five other men are receiving France's highest military honor, the National Order of the Legion of Honor, in a ceremony in Nashville on Thursday.
Murel Winans was a U.S. Navy corpsman, a veteran of the D-Day invasion as well as the Pacific campaign. He also served in the Korean conflict. He and five other men are receiving France's highest military honor, the National Order of the Legion of Honor, in a ceremony in Nashville on Thursday.
Photo by John Rawlston.

D-DAY VETS

An estimated 156,000 troops landed in Normandy on D-Day in 1944. About 73,000 of them were Americans and 2,499 Americans died that day. Another 1,915 people from other Allied nations died that day.

French consulate officials estimated that 7,000 Legion of Honor medals have been awarded to World War II veterans since 2004.

Any living American veteran who served in France in 1944-45 is eligible for the Legion of Honor medal. Service members must be able to verify their time with documentation. Contact the French consulate office in Atlanta at 404-495-1660 or email info@consulfrance-atlanta.org to submit applications.

Source: Times Free Press archives, D-Day Museum, U.S. National D-Day Memorial Foundation

Other veterans honored with medal:

Joe Thompson, Nashville

Thomas Harris, Spring Hill

Beverly Morris, Hermitage

Gordon Strevel, Knoxville

Samuel "Ray" Fain, Jefferson City


Some past local Legion of Honor recipients:

Reuben Downer, Dade County, Ga., 2011

Charles Coolidge, Signal Mountain, 2006

Charles Wilson, Summerville, Ga., 2009

Charles Sprowl, Dalton, Ga., 2010

James Edward Hill, Elora, Tenn., 2007

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On June 6, 1944, Murel Winans received an unwelcome birthday present when he turned 19 -- German bullets whizzing by him as he scrambled for cover.

Dodging enemy fire, Winans looked over at a soldier digging in on the beach. When he looked back, the man was still.

"There was a purple spot right there in his forehead. A sniper got him," he said.

Part of the D-Day invasion, Winans carried no weapon onto the beaches of Normandy, France, that day. He hauled bandages, gouged the sand with his helmet for a makeshift foxhole and scraped along on his belly to help wounded soldiers and sailors. The fighting on dragged on and Winans helped "as much as I could."

For weeks following the battle, as soldiers pressed forward into the country, Winans and other Navy corpsmen combed the beach for bodies and treated those hurt in fighting inland and brought them back to the beach.

During daily Jeep drives up and down the beach, he became familiar with the signs of the dead.

"If you see a strap sticking out of the sand, you know there's somebody attached to it," he said.

Today in Nashville, a representative of France will pin the country's highest award to the shirt of Winans and five other Tennesseans as a small thanks 68 years after those terror-filled days.

He first heard of the Legion of Honor medal through a roster of living veterans of his World War II unit -- the 6th Naval Beach Battalion. He noticed a few years ago that four of the battalion's veterans had received the award, so he called the French consulate office in Atlanta and sent the paperwork, and more paperwork and more paperwork, he said.

A year or two went by before he got a letter, dated Feb. 12, telling him he would receive the medal in Nashville.

A West Virginia native, Winans came to Chattanooga for a girl, just not the one he'd planned on.

A few years after the war, he and a good Navy buddy got to talking and the man said he wanted Winans to meet his sister. The pair came to the Scenic City on a Saturday, the day his friend's sister was teaching a church class.

Winan's eye caught on someone else, a student in the class.

"I saw her and I dropped anchor right there," said the sailor.

And that's how, nearly 64 years ago, Francis Elizabeth Wallenhaupt became his wife.

Winans has gotten rid of most of his military memorabilia, except a frame of 15 ribbons on his bedroom wall. That's where he'll put French medal after today.

He's proud of the honor, happy to receive it, he said, and when he looks at the medals each day, quick memories flit across his mind before he moves on.

"You don't never forget it. It's etched in your brain," he said. "But I don't dwell on it because I don't think it's good for you to dwell on it."

about Todd South...

Todd South covers courts, poverty, technology, military and veterans for the Times Free Press. He has worked at the paper since 2008 and previously covered crime and safety in Southeast Tennessee and North Georgia. Todd’s hometown is Dodge City, Kan. He served five years in the U.S. Marine Corps and deployed to Iraq before returning to school for his journalism degree from the University of Georgia. Todd previously worked at the Anniston (Ala.) Star. Contact ...

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