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France awards veteran highest honor

Norman Grossman accepted the Legion of Honor on D-day’s 70th anniversary

Created date

October 10th, 2014
Linden Ponds resident Norman Grossman wears his Legion of Honor medal, which he received this year.
Linden Ponds resident Norman Grossman wears his Le

A handwritten sign on his Ponds apartment door proclaims, “Norm is the man!” As the recent recipient of the Legion of Honor—France’s highest honor—and the chair of the Linden Ponds Veterans Association, Norman Grossman has earned the distinction.

A veteran of World War II who participated in D-day, Norm was presented the Legion on the 70th anniversary of D-day in a moving ceremony at the Massachusetts State House. Three of Norm’s four sons and their wives were in attendance. “Stormin’ Norman,” they called out from the audience. 

Norm says he was astounded by the unbelievable response from his neighbors at Linden Ponds, where he and his wife have lived for the past six years. Norm rarely talks about his part in the 1944 invasion of Normandy, but friends at Linden Ponds who hail from France encouraged him to apply for the recognition. 

Since this summer’s ceremony, many community members have approached Norm to express their gratitude for his service. 

“I don’t really feel that I’m exceptional,” he says. “You get humbled by something like this.”

One man’s part

While enrolled at the University of Pennsylvania, Norm enlisted in the Army Specialized Training Program. He went directly to basic training and then left for England, where he trained for a year with the 29th Division as a private first class in the 116th Infantry Regiment. 

Norm describes “one man’s small part in this gigantic struggle” in Forty Days in France, the 18-page journal he typed with one finger from his hospital bed after he was wounded by a mortar shell. 

In his account, Norm describes the boat ride to shore in Normandy—the worst ride he ever had, the first time he fired his rifle, and many near-misses. He describes the bitter loss of most of his platoon, men he had lived with for a year.

“I feel very fortunate—we just did what we were trained to do,” he says. Norm’s memories are still vivid. “Every night before I go to sleep, I think about the guys that have gone,” he says, including his friend Fred, whose 2-year-old daughter never knew her father before he was killed. “I wonder what her life has been like.”

Norm has been awarded the Purple Heart, an infantry badge, and a Presidential citation. He returned to Normandy a few times, the last of which was for the 60th anniversary of D-day. 

“The Normandy people are very appreciative of what Americans have done for them. I couldn’t walk down the street without being hugged or kissed,” he says.

Following the war, Norm went to Brown University and then worked for his father’s business, Maine-based Congress Sportswear. He married and with his wife raised their five children—four boys and a girl—in Newton, Mass. 

The couple moved to Linden Ponds when their house started to feel too big. “I didn’t want the burden to be on my wife if something happened to me or vice versa,” he says. “There’s nothing like this,” he says of Linden Ponds, which had more people and activities than other communities they visited. 

Stories of remembrance 

This year Norm became the chair of the Linden Ponds Veterans Association, a group with 200 members, including about a dozen women. The group meets the second Wednesday of every month to listen to speakers, learn about benefits available to them, watch movies, and celebrate Veterans Day. 

“It’s important we remember how fortunate we are that we live in a country like this and that we’ve got to be always ready to defend our country,” Norm says.

“I hope the new veterans will carry on and tell their story and make sure it is not forgotten,” he adds, including those who weren’t in active combat. “To me, a veteran is a veteran, no matter where he or she served. [They should be] proud to be Linden Ponds veterans.” 

Past Veterans Day celebrations at Linden Ponds have included a 40-piece Army band, an Air Force band, a Navy band, and the installation of a remembrance marker in the community. 

“We make a big deal about veterans here,” says Al Gustaitis, who was chair of the association for five years before Norm. 

Many of Linden Ponds’ veterans have been celebrated for their achievements. Sam Allar received the Legion of Honor about seven years ago for his role as a combat medic in the Army during WWII. He also participated in the Battle of the Bulge and was awarded the Purple Heart and a Bronze Star for bravery.