SANFORD – During combat in World War II, Phillip Roy befriended a French teenager who gave him information that saved the lives of many of Roy’s fellow GIs and led to the capture of dozens of German soldiers.
Nearly 10 years ago, as Roy prepared to set off on a search for his old friend, the two were reunited. Now, in the final chapter of that saga, Roy will be honored for his wartime actions.
On Tuesday, the 88-year-old Sanford resident will receive the Army’s Bronze Star for providing vital intelligence to Company L of the 116th Infantry Regiment in fighting outside Brest, France, in 1944.
Roy, who moved into an assisted living facility last summer, will be honored at a ceremony at the American Legion Hall in Sanford. The medal will be presented by Air Force Lt. Gen. Donald Lamontagne, a Sanford native who helped push for Roy’s belated award.
Roy’s children, David Roy of Manhasset Beach, Calif., Linda Kilgour of Sanford, and Joanne Kimball of Brooksville, as well as several grandchildren, also will be present.
But Claude Ganaye, now in his mid-70s, was in France for the holidays, and David Roy regretted he was unable on such short notice to contact him about the ceremony.
Ganaye was 15 when he visited Phillip Roy while the unit of the 29th Infantry Division was deployed on the Brittany peninsula.
Roy, a Quebec native and the only French-speaking soldier in his unit, gave bread and a pair of shoes to the boy, whose family had been driven out of Brest by the Germans.
Their friendship led Ganaye to inform Roy that the Germans had established a “killing field” ambush, with well-hidden bunkers and gun emplacements, a half mile from where the company was headed. Ganaye also showed him how to navigate a minefield planted by the enemy.
Roy relayed to his sergeant what the boy had told him. But the sergeant questioned the boy’s credibility and brushed the information aside.
Acting out of character, Roy circumvented the chain of command and went to his lieutenant, managing to convince him of the boy’s veracity and the gravity of the situation.
Guided by Ganaye, Roy then led a small squad that captured 40 Germans without suffering any casualties themselves.
Although his unit soon left the area, Roy never forgot Ganaye. After Roy’s wife of 50 years died in 1993, he decided to travel to France to try to find the man he had known only as a teenager. All he had to go on was a name, two old addresses and a tiny snapshot.
But before the trip began, an Associated Press story recounting Roy’s longing for his old friend caught up with Ganaye, who was living in Glen Ellen, Calif., running a bed-and-breakfast.
Ganaye flew to Sanford in 1994 for a reunion with Roy, and they later traveled to France to revisit the place where they had met. The two have kept in touch ever since.
After the battle outside Brest, Roy was told he would be awarded a medal for his heroism. But the officers familiar with the episode were killed in combat, and Roy never pursued an award.
About three months later Roy was severely wounded by enemy mortar fire outside Cologne, Germany. He was awarded the Purple Heart.
David Roy said he sought to get his father a medal but had had little luck until an old college friend who is now at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama wrote a letter on Phillip Roy’s behalf.
A California congresswoman, Lynn Woolsey, D-Calif., who had placed Roy’s story in the Congressional Record, also took up the case.
Those efforts paid off when the Army notified the family in mid-December that Roy would get the Bronze Star.
The citation says that Roy, then a private first class, “ensured his chain of command received vital intelligence on hidden enemy minefields, snipers and gun emplacements which posed a threat to the company. He was instrumental in the capture of 40 enemy soldiers without any loss of life.”
Roy said he was thrilled to be getting the award. “I feel that there are many other soldiers, both dead and alive, that deserve this same recognition. I feel honored to be accepting this award on behalf of all of us,” he said.
David Roy emphasized how much the award means to his father, a retired shoe worker who still carries seven pieces of shrapnel in his body.
“This last medal is just the supreme act of closure and vindication of a fairly difficult life,” he said.