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Irish D-Day vet gets top honour from France

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Patrick Gillen, a D-Day veteran after he was presented with the Legion of Honour medal by French Ambassador Jean Piere Thibault, in Cork yest.

Patrick Gillen, a D-Day veteran after he was presented with the Legion of Honour medal by French Ambassador Jean Piere Thibault, in Cork yest.

Patrick Gillen, a D-Day veteran after he was presented with the Legion of Honour medal by French Ambassador Jean Piere Thibault, in Cork yest.

AN IRISH D-Day veteran has been honoured by the French government, 70 years after his daring actions in one of the key battles of World War II.

Patrick Gillen (89) has been awarded the Chevalier de la Legion d'Honneur from the French ambassador, Jean-Pierre Thebault who made the presentation at Mercy University Hospital, Cork where the war hero is an inpatient.

Patrick, originally from Galway, is a grandfather of 12 and his proud family attended the ceremony along with Defence Minister Simon Coveney.

The honour was bestowed on Mr Gillen in recognition of his contribution to the liberation of France.

Invasion

Patrick left home at 18 and joined the Royal Marine Commandos who were in the first wave of the invasion of Normandy.

More than 9,000 were killed and wounded in the operation which marked the beginning of the end for Adolf Hitler's Third Reich.

Patrick was heartbroken he couldn't make the 70th anniversary ceremonies in Normandy last June but he wrote a special note to honour all his fallen comrades.

"In memory of all commandos from the emerald island who lie in sleep in Normandy fields," it read.

He recalls the advice given to soldiers was to get off their landing craft quickly once they reached Sword Beach.

"The whole thing was to move fast and get off the beach. We weren't to be a target for the German snipers," he said.

"We came up to the bridge and you could hear the bullets pinging off the ironworks, steelworks and we had a few casualties there."

"They were all over us," he said.

Surviving D-Day was only the beginning for Patrick who faced a long, hard fight across northern France, Belgium and then into Germany itself.

"I feel a certain sense of sadness about it and for my friends who didn't make it - I was certainly one of the lucky ones," Patrick said.

hnews@herald.ie


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