A Brownsville native who helped liberate France during World War II has been recognized by the French government with its highest merit, the Legion of Honor.
“I felt honored,’’ said Andy Negra, 95, of Sautee, Ga., who served with the Army from 1944-45. “It was amazing.’’
Louis de Corail, consulate general of France in Atlanta, decorated Negra during a June 27 ceremony at Skylake Clubhouse in Sautee Nacoochee. President Emmanuel Macron designates the recipients, who are inducted as knights in the National Order of the Legion of Honor.
“Some 75 years ago, Mr. Negra risked his young life for the freedom of France and Europe. France is what it is today, a free and sovereign country, thanks to the bravery of such veterans and thanks to America,’’ said de Corail in his remarks.
A release explained the Legion of Honor is bestowed on French citizens and foreign nationals who have served France, including Americans who risked their lives during World War II fighting on French soil.
Negra was drafted at age 19 in the summer of 1943, a month after he graduated from Brownsville High School, where he played on the football and basketball teams.
“In basic training, they taught me to be a clerk typist but, overseas, I did everything but typing,’’ said Negra, whose duties included being an assistant tank driver and artillery loader with the 128th Armored Field Artillery Battalion, part of the 6th Armored Division, known as The Super Sixth.
Negra landed at Utah Beach, Normandy, on July 18, 1944, fighting in France, Belgium, Luxembourg and Germany.
“Our mission was to divide the enemy and get to your target, and let the rest of the troops clean up,’’ explained Negra.
The consulate noted: “During the Normandy Campaign, Negra engaged in combat in the Cotentin Peninsula, and afterwards fought across western France, before turning east and arriving at the German border. North of Metz, the 6th Armored Division participated in the Battle of the Bulge, crossed the Siegfried Line and helped free Allied prisoners of war and the concentration camp at Buchenwald, then took Leipzig.’’
Negra, who was promoted to sergeant, talked about the French people cheering the soldiers.
He remembered the Battle of the Bulge as “the worst winter the country ever had – it was cold.’’
Negra mentioned close calls with the Germans and seeing prisoners walking in the Buchenwald camp as the tanks continued their mission.
“The farthest point we reached was Rochlitz at the Mulde River,’’ said Negra. “We had to wait for the Russians to come on the other side.’’
As the war ended, Negra was transferred to the 2nd Armored Division in Berlin and then the 36th Infantry Division in France before coming home in December 1945.
In 1946, Negra wed his wife, Viola, whom he met at a dance at Fort Meade before being sent to Europe. They were married 72 years before she died in 2017. Negra worked with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, most of it in Washington, D.C., before the couple retired near their daughter in Georgia. They have three children, six grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.
“We are now decades away from World War II, and yet we still pay homage to these veterans, to the legacy of their courage and their fight for freedom in a time of darkness and despicable ideologies that came to power in Europe,’’ the consulate said.
De Corail told Negra, “You embody this shared French-American history. You illustrated with your courage the friendship and shared values that so profoundly bind our two nations. We are gathered here to honor you.’’