For the second time in four days, the French government has offered a Western New Yorker who served in World War II its highest honor, the Légion d'Honneur. This time, it was a Lackawanna native who served as an Army Nurse in 1944 and 1945.
Mildred Speers, 98 years old, was born Mildred Budimirovich in 1921 and graduated from Lackawanna High School in its Class of 1939. She currently resides inside Blocher Homes in Williamsville, where the ceremony honoring her was held.
French Honorary Consul Pascal Soares, who honored Olean native Charles Brown with the Légion d'Honneur the previous Friday, shared a similar message of gratitude to Speers.
"In the soul and mind of each French citizen, young and old alike, there is a profound and eternal gratitude to our American friends," said Soares, who referred to Speers as he did Brown as "my hero and my liberator."
Speers was a member of the Army's 96th Evacuation Hospital Unit, which treated more than 4,000 patients within a month after arriving in Normandy in June 1944. About one fourth of those patients were treated in the first week.
"All day. Twenty-four hours," she said. "Regardless if they were French, Italian, German, we took care of everybody."
They did so sometimes under hostile fire. In July 1944, the hospital was attacked by enemy aircraft. No one on the ground was injured but the unit needed to quickly relocate from La Foret to Marigny. They later had to move again on very short notice.
"Later that year, just before Christmas, there was intelligence that the hospital was about to be attacked again by the Germans," said Congressman Brian Higgins. "Mildred remembers putting patients in jeeps and trucks with just one hour to evacuate the hospital and get patients to safety."
Higgins presented Speers with additional military decorations: the Honorable Service Lapel Button, the World War Two Victory Medal and the European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with Silver Star attachment.
Speers said following the ceremony that she was surprised by the honors by both nations. She also spoke about the task of having to assist so many wounded individuals.
"It was interesting. Only the young can do it," she said with a laugh.