70 Years After D-Day, French Honor Former U.S. Coast Guard Machinist

By Barbara Hollingsworth | June 6, 2014 | 1:55 PM EDT


Former Coast Guard machinist & French Legion of Honour recipient Jack W. Read. (Coast Guard Compass)

(CNSNews.com) – Former Coast Guard chief motor machinist Jack W. Read received France’s Legion d’Honneur Friday at ceremonies marking the 70th anniversary of the D-Day invasion, which most historians consider the turning point of World War II.

The Legion of Honour was created by Napoleon Bonaparte, and is the highest award bestowed by the French government on non-French service members. Read was one of 36 U.S. servicemen to receive the award.

The D-Day ceremonies were attended by a number of dignitaries, including President Obama, French President Francois Hollande, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Britain’s Queen Elizabeth, and Queen Margrethe of Denmark. 

Read, who lives in Erie, Penn., enlisted in 1942 shortly after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. In 1943, he was assigned to Coast Guard cutter # 83464, according to Eric Montgomery, nephew of a Navy coxswain killed on D-Day.

Montgomery, who was accompanying the 91-year-old Coast Guard veteran to France to receive his award, said the two met at the National D-Day Memorial in Bedford, Va. in 2011. (See Chief Motor Machinist Mate Jack W. Read.pdf)

“It’s sad, because hardly anybody knows the story about how many people the Coast Guard rescued on D-Day,” Montgomery told CNSNews.

“Jack’s unit, Rescue Flotilla One, was assigned to Juno Beach, one of the few American support units for landing in the Canadian sector,” he said. “They were mainly responsible for rescuing people from the water.”

“They rescued 1,438 people, including a Royal Army Medical Corps nurse whose hospital ship hit a mine and sunk. The total number of casualties there on D-Day was 4,300, so this was a significant number.”

A young Jack Read (Photo Courtesy of Eric Montgomery)

Read’s unit was recognized by President Ronald Reagan on the 40th anniversary of D-Day. Reagan referred to the 83-foot cutters as the “Matchbox Fleet” because they were made of wood, Montgomery told CNSNews.com.

“The wood doesn’t set off magnetic mines and the hulls weren’t deep enough to hit ‘porcupine mines,'" so they were ideal for beach rescue operations, he explained.

Montgomery’s uncle, 36-year-old Amin Isbir, was killed in action on Omaha Beach when his jeep was hit with artillery fire while he was assisting the beach master to bring American troops ashore. He is buried in Normandy.

Twelve of his great-uncles served in World War II, he said, inspiring him to lead annual D-Day reenactments on Lake Erie and set up a website honoring their sacrifice.