Basil Woolf receives belated honor for WW2 service
As a British sailor, Basil Woolf saw plenty of action during World War II, surviving hellish battles that claimed hundreds of lives. And it was those lost lives that he remembered most when he recently was honored by France with the Legion of Honor medal at a ceremony in Boynton Beach.
While it may seem strange that Woolf, who now lives in Dunedin, would receive the medal more than six decades after the war ended, that is not really the case.
It was not until 2004 that French President Jacques Chirac decided that the Legion of Honor medal should be given to Allied Forces who participated in the invasion and liberation of France during World War II, according to Pierre Arnoux of the French Consulate General’s office in Miami. It took several more years before the medals began to be awarded in Florida, he said during an interview earlier this year, noting at the time that 425 veterans in Florida had received the medal. The vast majority of those were Americans. Woolf, 89, stands out as a rarity, since his service was as a British sailor.
“The medal service was attended by 22 U.S. World War II veterans — the youngest of whom was 85 and the oldest 97, and myself, the only British veteran,” Woolf said. The whole thing was most impressive.” Woolf was accompanied by his wife, Anne; his son and daughter-in-law, and his daughter.
Capt. Philippe Petitdidier from the French detachment of the U.S. Central Command at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa presented the medals.
“Receiving this medal after so many years made me feel very honored and brought back memories of my fellow sailors who gave their lives, especially those who died during the Walcheren Island invasion,” Woolf said, “My ship was the landing craft headquarters of the support squadron during the Normandy Invasion and I spent three months in the Sword Area under constant shelling from LeHavre.”
Five months after the Normandy invasion, Woolf participated in the November 1944 invasion of Holland’s Walcheren Island. Capturing it was key to opening a route to bring supplies to Allied forces. Woolf described that mission: “I was involved in a commando operation taking Hitler’s bastion in the mouth of the River Scheldt - 26 landing craft took part in this operation and my headquarters ship was the only remaining craft. 400 sailors died!” Among the craft destroyed was a hospital ship. It and the landing craft Woolf was aboard were the only two vessels left when he saw the ship blown out of the water. He said it broke in two and sank in minutes. The landing craft looked for survivors but found none.
Woolf volunteered for the Royal Navy in 1940 and survived the entire war with no injuries, other than loss of some hearing caused by gun batteries. Prior to the Normandy Invasion he helped take supplies to Malta and smuggled Greek women guerillas into Crete. He also took part in landings in Sicily and Italy.
Woolf and his wife immigrated to the United States in 1952 and became citizens in 1957. They are members of Temple Ahavat Shalom.
Woolf, like many others who have received the Legion of Honor medal, learned about it, then submitted information to show helped liberate France.
Those who feel they may deserve the medal should call Pierre Arnoux of the French Consulate General’s office in Miami at (305) 403-4160 or write Arnoux at the office of the Consulate General of France, Espirito Santo Plaza, 1395 Brickell Ave., Suite 1050, Miami, FL 33131.