Skip to main content
American Sisters Among Thirteen Awarded French Legion of Honor

American Sisters Among Thirteen Awarded French Legion of Honor

Published on September 28, 2012
Veterans Honored for Wartime Service in Normandy

See more photos of this ceremony on Flickr.

As the world’s largest-ever war raged through the spring of 1944, two sisters from Salem, New Jersey sent a letter to Washington, D.C. volunteering for service with the U.S. Army Nursing Corps. Dorothy Levitsky and her younger sister Ellan had just one request: that they not be separated while on active duty. Just three months after the Allied landing in Normandy, they departed to France on September 11, 1944, where they served for just under a year. Sixty-eight years after their deployment, Mrs. Dorothy Levitsky Sinner and Mrs. Ellan Levitsky Orkin were recognized along with 11 other World War II veterans with France’s prestigious Legion of Honor on September 27 at the Embassy of France.

Answering the Call to Serve

Dorothy and Ellan Levitsky

Both sisters were sure they wanted to be nurses, having already worked in hospitals in Philadelphia, near their childhood home. But Dorothy needed more convincing than Ellan to join the war effort. After some persuasion, the two enlisted together. With their training complete, the young women left New York City and began their service on September 24 as the first contingent of nurses to go directly to France, and were stationed in Cherbourg, Normandy.

The women describe their time in the Army Nursing Corps as an adventure. Amid tough times they were able to maintain high spirits. They slept in individual tents or folding cots and had limited access to fresh fruits and vegetables. With the diet leading to an overall poor nutrition, the pair resorted to bartering with the local French by trading butter and sugar for solid foods like poultry. Despite the language barrier, the sisters felt comfortable among French citizens and made numerous local friends.

In June of 1945, the women prepared to leave France to serve in Okinawa, Japan. However, as war efforts were winding down in Asia, the sisters were able to board their ship to go back to the United States. Each experienced mixed feelings—Ellan loved every minute of being an Army nurse and wanted to stay longer, while Dorothy admitted that she could not wait to go home.

Returning to France

Now in their nineties, the Levitsky sisters return to France every June 6 to commemorate the Allied invasion on D-Day. “I think when I left I took a little piece of Normandy with me,” said Ellan in a 2011 interview. “We come back every year and we’ll come back as long as we can.”

“We come back to see the place,” said Dorothy, adding that, “We [also] come back for the people. They’re our friends. It’s a family.”

Both Levitsky sisters have been decorated for their service not only with Victory Medals and the “European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign” Ribbon, but also with medals awarded by the French Senate.

A Prestigious Recognition

French Veterans Affairs Minister Kader Arif

France’s National Order of the Legion of Honor was established in 1802 by Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte in order to recognize excellent civil or military conduct. There are five degrees of honors awarded: Knight, Officer, Commander, Grand Officer, and Grand Cross, plus the “Grand Master,” held by the sitting French President. The seat of the Legion of Honor is the Palais de la Légion d’Honneur, situated not far from the Musée d’Orsay on Paris’s Left Bank.

The thirteen veterans honored as Knights of the Legion of Honor

Dorothy and Ellan Levitsky were among the thirteen veterans honored as Knights of the Legion of Honor at the September 27 ceremony. Other honorees were Bernard Amadio, Richard H. Beltz, Shelton B. Bosley, Frank Bressler, Alfred V. Domineck, Donald M. McKee, Joseph A. Patucci, Ernest E. Personeus, Edward Torres, and Henry Wessel. French Veterans Affairs Minister Kader Arif presented each award after a speech in which he saluted the honorees as “sons and daughters of France.”

See more photos of this ceremony on Flickr.

See photos of the French Veterans Affairs Minister laying a wreath at Arlington National Cemetery.

      top of the page