One of the last surviving Irish D-Day veterans has dedicated the award of France’s highest honour to the lives of all those who took part in the landings.
Michael d’Alton, 93, was given the Legion d’Honneur on board the French navy ship Somme in Dublin Port in recognition of his role at Omaha beach on June 6, 1944.
The former sub-lieutenant, who steered a landing craft tank to Normandy, joins an elite band of Irish men to receive an award created by Napoleon, and the country’s highest honour, civil or military.
“I think the fact that this award is being awarded to me is indicative of the fact that there were tens of thousands of others who landed on the beach in France that day and other days, it’s on their behalf,” he said.
“Also I think I would say a word for those who have survived the 70 years since D-Day, as I’ve been lucky enough to do, and I’d send my commemorations to them too.”
Mr d’Alton was tasked with bringing Sherman tanks across to Omaha beach in the American sector.
He has previously recalled the horror of the day as the craft of which he was second in command beached on top of a Teller mine and he had to watch a tank crew drown after they disembarked from a landing craft on the edge of a large underwater hole.
Mr d’Alton remains steadfast in his reasons for enlisting.
“I went because Hitler had to be stopped,” he said.
“He was the greatest menace on the earth at the time. I think there was a duty bound on every man, woman and child to assist.”
Mr d’Alton was a sailor from a young age and joined the Royal Navy to fight with the Allied forces.
At the medal-awarding service he was flanked by his son Mark and daughter Sonda on board the ship as the Legion d’Honneur was pinned next to his service medals.
He returned to Omaha, the beaches which inspired opening scenes in Saving Private Ryan, in 2002 after his daughter moved to France – only a few years after he first spoke about his war service.
Ms d’Alton said: “When you have had a subject that has been taboo... For 50 years my father never, ever spoke about the war, until a newspaper article.
“I think it’s important for people to talk about any trauma and a good thing that he talks about it now, in factual terms, which is also very normal.”
Jean-Pierre Thebault, French ambassador to Ireland, revealed his story might have remained hidden but for the US military archives recording his role.
The award to Mr d’Alton follows a ceremony in December when the late Pat Gillen, from Cork, was also honoured with the Legion d’Honneur for his role in the D-Day landings with the Commando unit.
Others are planned if veterans are found, officials in the French embassy in Dublin said.
Mr Thebault urged other veterans to come forward to be recognised.
“It’s not only an honour to the person Michael d’Alton, it’s also a way to say to all the Irish veterans of the Second World War who fought in France and for France to say please let us know who you are, all over Ireland, because we would like to distinguish you for your service,” he said.
Mr d’Alton’s D-Day service included leaving Plymouth on the landing craft tank on June 5, only to be forced back in bad weather.
He was born on April 12 1921 in Dublin and was 23 when the unprecedented military invasion took place. After the war he returned to Ireland to live in Dalkey and work as a quantity surveyor.