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Lorraine Toussaint Kelley to be awarded French Légion d'Honneur

May 30, 2012
BERLIN- A 92-year-old Berlin woman has been notified by the French government that she was chosen to receive the country's most prestigious award, the Légion d'Honneur. The award ceremony will occur at Berlin High School tomorrow, May 31.

Lorraine Toussaint Kelley, who served as a front-line nurse during the D-Day invasion, is one of only a few state residents to achieve the distinction, which is France's highest honor and is presented to people regardless of country for extraordinary contributions to France.

Mrs. Kelley, a resident of the St. Vincent dePaul Nursing Home, is a native of Berlin and a 1938 graduate of Berlin High School. A registered nurse, Kelley joined the U.S. Army and was assigned to a medical unit that eventually landed in France days after the Allied troops landed on the beaches of Normandy in June, 1944. The amphibious invasion of France was the largest in history and was the beginning of the end of the Axis Powers' domination of Europe. But the D-Day operation came at a high price – some 215,000 Allied soldiers were killed or wounded in Normandy – nearly as many the entire population of the four northern counties of Coos, Grafton, Carroll and Belknap.

It was in this chaos that Mrs. Kelley worked – along with 40 medical doctors and as many nurses and 300 support staff. She served in what was called the 101 EVAC (evacuation) Hospital, but it was hardly a hospital by any means. It was more like a MASH unit working out of tents and dealing with the horrific results of battle. Her son, Steve Kelley said that Mrs. Kelley was "close to danger" and has a photograph of his young mother in a fleeting moment of relaxation perched upon a large bomb. Mrs. Kelley joked with her son that if the bomb exploded he wouldn't be here.

The Order of the Legion of Honour was instituted in 1802 by Napoleon Bonaparte as an attempt to recognize merit, not nobility. Another North Country veteran of D-Day, Roger Aldrich, of Sugar Hill, received the award several years ago. Herb Lahout, of Littleton, who has helped several World War II era veterans obtain their medals, encouraged Steve Kelley to share his mother's story and information with the French consulate in Boston. He did and was notified months later.

Kelley said his mother never sought glory for her service though she did receive five battle stars. He recalls as a youngster each Memorial Day visiting the gravesites of fallen veterans. "Anyone who served in World War II needed to be good and lucky [to survive]," he said, "They had to be lucky."

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