Lorraine Toussaint Kelley with her sons, Mike, left, and Steve Kelley. Photo by Jeff Woodburn. (click for larger version)
June 06, 2012BERLIN- Lorraine Toussaint Kelley returned to her Alma matter, Berlin High School, to receive France's most prestigious award, the Légion d'Honneur, for her service as front-line nurse during World War II.
The 92-year-old Berlin woman was presented a medal from the French Consul General Christophe Guilhou in a ceremony last Thursday."Mrs. Kelley's service reminds us of the significant part played by Americans in World War II," he said, thanks to the efforts of the liberators his country is "able to enjoy democracy and freedom today."
Guilhou applauded Kelley's bravery and sacrifice for participating in the campaigns at Normandy (better known as D-Day), Northern France and the Ardennes. For nearly a year from June 1944 to May 1945 Kelley, he said, "put her life a stake… since the hospital was constantly exposed to enemy fire." Guilhou noted that her unit of 40 medical doctors and 40 nurses "treated 24,524 patients. This, by itself, is an exploit."
The ceremonies included brief remarks by Berlin Mayor Paul Grenier, Executive Councilor Ray Burton, State Senator John Gallus, a representative for Congressman Charles Bass and BHS principal Gary Bisson. A few dozen 11th graders and dozen friends and relatives were present. Mrs. Kelley, a resident of the St. Vincent dePaul Nursing Home, is native of Berlin and a 1938 graduate of Berlin High School. Kelley smiled broadly and spoke briefly during the ceremony and showed great stamina and sharp intellect as she visited with her well wishers and then engaged them in a lengthy question and answered period. She encouraged the young people to consider careers in nursing and to learn a foreign language. Kelley said her knowledge of French came in very handy during her time in France. She didn't dwell on her role in the war.
At the time, she said, they didn't know of the historic nature of their mission.
"The Battle of the Bulge," Kelley said, "was a bad thing" and General (later President) Dwight Eisenhower was a "wonderful man." She met Ike when he came on the beach during the D-Day invasion.
Kelley also gave the students some life advice. "There are two things" that got her through the darkest days of the war, she said, "God and humor. You have to laugh at yourself."
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.