On Christmas Eve, 1944, the SS Leopoldville set off across the English Channel, heavy with 2,000 American soldiers ready to fight in the Battle of the Bulge unfolding in Europe.
Just five miles from their destination a German submarine torpedoed the ship’s hull. More than 700 of the souls on board died in the blast or were lost in the frigid waters as the ship sank.
Herbert T. Baskin of Perdido Beach, was there. The young soldier served as captain of a tug boat with the 335th Transportation Corps Harbor Craft Company that delivered supplies and aided the Allies’ seagoing vessels. When the SS Leopoldville sank, he helped pull survivors from the freezing waters.
Last week the entire nation of France offered its thanks for his service. Consul General of France in Atlanta, Vincent Hommeril, presented Baskin with the French Legion of Honor, the highest award the nation can bestow.
President of the French Republic Emmanuel Macron designates the recipients of the Legion of Honor to French citizens and foreign nationals.
“Seventy years ago you risked your life for the future of France,” Hommeril said during the ceremony. “France is what it is today because of the bravery of such veterans.
“We will never forget what you did to restore our freedom and the sacrifice of your countrymen who rest in our soil,” he said.
The ceremony was held in a packed room at American Legion Post 99 in Foley. ROTC cadets from both Foley and Robertsdale high schools participated.
As Hommeril pinned the red, green and gold medal on Baskin’s lapel, and bestowed upon him the rank of knight, Baskin joined the ranks of a select group of American’s who have been chosen for the honor. That group includes Thomas Edison, Alexander Graham Bell, Generals Dwight D. Eisenhower and Douglas MacArthur and Sen. Daniel Inouye.
Baskin said he was humbled by the award.
“I’m almost overwhelmed,” he told the crowd. “I’m proud to be deemed worthy of the wonderful tribute.”