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At 101, a US World War II veteran – and pacifist – is honoured by France

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NEW YORK – In his 101 years on earth, Mr Jack Hausman has seen a lot: Eight decades ago he endured the battlefields of World War II before returning home and taking over the family business, all the while remaining a lifelong pacifist.

But when he was honoured recently in his small New York home with France’s Legion of Honour for his wartime service, a flood of memories left him sobbing.

His voice breaking with emotion and tears streaming down his cheeks, Mr Hausman, surrounded by friends and family members in his home of 80 years, expressed the pain he felt “for those who are no longer here today”.

As the 80th anniversary of the Allies’ D-Day landing in Normandy approaches on June 6 – and that of Nazi Germany’s surrender the following May 8 – French embassy officials in the United States have been doing their best to honour the dwindling number of surviving American veterans who fought in the European theatre.

The men Mr Hausman wanted to honour on a radiant afternoon in late April, as he himself was honoured by the acting French consul in New York, were the 250 members of his regiment of US army engineers and sappers who fought alongside legendary General George Patton in Algeria, Italy, southern France, Central Europe and the Rhineland from 1943 to 1945.

“You’ve made me an important guy,” the Brooklyn-born Mr Hausman said, his voice slightly quaking – but with a mischievous gleam in his eye that brought laughter to his two daughters, both in their 70s, as well as his grandchildren, great-grandchildren and friends.

“I felt that I was accepting this for 250 men,” he told acting French consul Damien Laban. “They did all the hard work. I was included. But believe me, they worked hard. And I… wouldn’t accept the award without them.”

He was fully deserving, replied Mr Laban, because of his “role in liberating France and Europe during World War II”.

The youngest veterans are 96 or 97 years old, many in shaky health, and the ceremonies honouring them inevitably unleash powerful memories and emotions.

“We feel it is our duty to thank the heroes who helped liberate our nation during World War II while we still can,” said Mr Laban. “We owe them our freedom, democracy and way of life.”

Some veterans have been invited to the D-Day commemoration in Normandy on June 6, but Mr Hausman has no plans to go.

He said he has had no desire to return to Europe since the end of the war.

Despite joining the army at age 20 to help build roads and bridges and remove mines, Mr Hausman said he had always been a pacifist.

“We want the world to be peaceful,” he said softly.

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