France Honors Proud And Few

About to turn 104 years old, Otto Ihringer is always the oldest man in uniform at Memorial Day ceremonies in Carrington, N.D. This year, there's another reason this World War I combat veteran stands out from the crowd.

From little towns across the country, many of the tens of thousands of American boys who went off to WWI fought and died in France. Eighty years later, CBS News Correspondent Bob McNamara reports, the French government is honoring the surviving Americans who saw battle there.

"No one can understand the hell you go through in those trenches," Ihringer says, "unless you're in it."

Fought from trench to trench, WWI was both a crude and cruel war. Ihringer kept a diary that recalls the death and discomfort.

"I stood in that mud so damn long, I says I'm sure my toes grew together," he explains from his memories. "And if I could ever get outta here, I'll be walking like a duck."

With France's recognition, Ihringer now adds the Legion of Honor medal to his uniform. That country's highest honor, the award was also given out during Memorial Day ceremonies to Art Fiala in Wisconsin, and to Joe Schmidt and Don Hawley in South Dakota.

Onlookers waved flags and cheered as Ihringer's parade car drove through town.

"I think of history, and I think he's very proud and that makes me very happy to be an American," says Carrington resident Valerie Beumer.

"It was all one war and we were in there to win it," Ihringer says.

There were no bands or parades when Ihringer came home from the war, but today he was showered with appreciation he never knew before. This Memorial Day, a happy old solider was home at last.

  • CBSNews.com staff CBSNews.com staff

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