This fall, more than 60 years after he served in the United States Army, Dr. Maurice Meyers is enjoying a double reminder of that chapter of his life.
On Nov. 11, he received the Legion of Honor, France’s highest honor, at a ceremony in New York City. And before the year ends, if all goes according to plan, his book Reflections on My War will be published.
Speaking from his home in Watchung, Meyers told NJ Jewish News the timing is purely coincidental, but — he acknowledged — his publisher probably welcomes the confluence of events.
Meyers, who worked for 40 years as an attending physician at Muhlenberg Regional Medical Center in Plainfield, grew up there and has lived all his life “within five miles” of the city. But as a 19-year-old he found himself far away, as a private first class fighting with the Seventh Army in Europe.
In 1992, he returned to France with his wife, Ruth, and visited the places he encountered in the war. By an extraordinary stroke of luck, he also managed to track down a man who — as a little boy — had become the young soldier’s buddy, despite their lack of a common language. Since then, their families have become good friends.
That visit also inspired Meyers to start writing about his wartime experiences, “as an Orthodox Jewish kid, and a real greenhorn.” He worked with the support and encouragement of a writers group based at the Watchung Library, describing what he felt other accounts hadn’t covered. “I kept it very honest,” he said, “telling the way it is in war, with the humor, the nasty parts, and some very private things.”
Success didn’t come easily. He approached 106 agents before he linked up with one, and on Nov. 13 last year he found a publisher, Bluewood Publishing Ltd.
And in January of this year, Meyers was asked by the French consulate to answer questions about his service in France. In October, he heard of his appointment as a chevalier, or knight, of the Legion of Honor by French President Nicolas Sarkozy.
About 93,000 people have been awarded the honor, most of them French citizens. Among the other Americans who have are former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, General David Petraeus, the late chef Julia Childs, and jazz musician Miles Davis.
Meyers isn’t quite sure why he got the honor, but, he said, he believes it was for his service near the city of Colmar, on the Rhine. “It’s been described as one of the most important campaigns in U.S. military history,” he said. He was honored by the U.S. Army for his service with the Silver Star, the Bronze Star, and the Purple Heart.
The letter he received, signed by Philippe Lalliot, French consul general in New York, says: “This prestigious distinction underlines the deep appreciation and gratitude for your contribution to the liberation of our country during World War II. We will never forget the commitment of American heroes like you to whom France owes so much.”
Meyers was one of 18 World War II veterans presented with the award at a Veterans Day ceremony held at the Lycee Francais de New York. “It was very exciting. I feel very good about it,” he told NJJN.