An American flag flies high in front of Carold Blandâ??s home on Lake Thunderhead, as a daily reminder of his service.
"I was drafted into the United States Army in 1942, December of 1942,â?? said Bland.
A member of the 92nd Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron of the 12th Armored â??Hellcatâ?? Division during World War II, Bland saw it all.
"And we were speeding right along and we saw up ahead some huge smoke stacks, we couldn't imagine what they were. We got closer and we saw a large fence around the area and we figured it might be a prison, and it was,â?? Bland remembers.
That was his first glimpse of the horrors that lay ahead in the Nazi concentration camps, something Bland will never forget.
â??When I was right there in the middle of it, saw all of these dead bodies and these unbelievable people that were still living, I could smell the burning human flesh and death. I didn't want to believe it either. I saw with my own eyes, but I did not want to believe that a so called civilized country, that any human beings could be that cruel to other human beings,â?? said Bland.
Itâ??s a memory that still haunts him today.
Blandâ??s division liberated 11 of those concentration camps, but thatâ??s not why heâ??s being recognized now.
For a short time in 1945, his division was placed under the command of the First French Army, during the battle for the Colmar Pocket.
â??And I'm proud to say we showed them how it was done,â?? he joked.
His squadron contributed to a divisive win that took back a major Nazi stronghold. Bland still remembers the French celebrations today.
â??They were dancing in the street right in the midst of all the dead artillery horses and Nazi soldiers. And that was a scene I'll never forget too,â?? he said.
Now almost 70 years later heâ??s been inducted into the French Legion of Honor, the highest honor for any soldier of France.
â??This is the most important medal they give. The highest honor they give. And this medal was created by Napoleon, so it has some special meaning to me,â?? Bland said.
But he still doesnâ??t consider himself a hero.
â??I'm proud of it, but really, I'm no hero. We had good training and when I went over there, like everyone else, we did what we were trained to do. We did our duty, and that's all,â?? he said. "But to the French people, we liberated them. We gave them our youth, we gave them our, all of our, we lost lives, so many young people died, but we saved them and they appreciate it.â??
In fact he wants to send a letter of thanks to the French people for their help during the Revolutionary war and their gift of friendship that welcomed his division home
â??When we came home on our ship and entered New York Harbor...and we saw that Statue of Liberty, I don't think there was a dry eye on the whole ship. Everyone was shedding tears when they saw that and that Statue of Liberty means so much to me. It's so beautiful and it's beautiful and the most important land mark we have in this country I think and we've got to thank France for that,â?? Bland said.
A lasting symbol of the freedom he fought to protect, much like the flag that flies in his front yard everyday.