Last Updated Jun 6, 2015 10:56 AM EDT
It was D-Day that set the stage, 71 years ago today. It allowed one American soldier to advance into France and win his own small victory -- one that never made history except in the tiny French village of Batilly, population 300.
That one man in uniform is retired Capt. Sidney LaPook, who served in the 3rd Army 20th Corps, CBS News correspondent Richard Schlesinger reports.
"We were the Ghost Corps; we went like a bat outta hell," LaPook said.
He ended up in France in 1944 as a dentist who served as the outfit's medic. It was Nov. 13. During a shelling attack, LaPook pulled an injured soldier out of the line of fire, getting nicked by shrapnel himself.
But he became a local hero that day after saving a more unlikely patient -- another victim of shrapnel.
"You do what ya gotta do. And this was a wound that had to be closed up. And so, I closed it up," LaPook said.
Did he hesitate?
"Not at all," he said. "Not at all."
But LaPook's patient that day was a local -- one of the local cows.
At any point in this process, did he think "what in the world am I doing?"
"No. I felt this is what I should be doing. There is a somebody; this somebody is a cow. If it had been a soldier, I would've done that," he said.
Say what you will, but in a farming community saving a cow is something people remember. And in the middle of a war, simple acts of kindness are hard to forget.
"Our kids were getting blown apart here and there, the Germans were getting blown apart, everybody was, he said. "And here I had an opportunity to do something I thought was good."
LaPook has been back to France several times since that day. On his latest trip, videotaped by his son, CBS News' Dr. Jon LaPook, the LaPook family tracked down some of the few survivors to see if they might still remember what he did.
Paulette Denat was a teacher in 1944. Her daughter Janine was a teenager. They were both eager to reminisce.
"I always trusted the Americans," Paulette said, "because they saved the cow."
On that last trip, LaPook's family sponsored a lunch for the citizens of Batilly, and many of them turned out to cement his place in the history of their tiny town.
He was awarded the Medal of Batilly; a high honor for one old American serviceman who helped hundreds of soldiers and civilians, including one resident who was very important to the ancestors of the citizens of Batilly -- every single one of them.