Rancho Bernardo veteran receives Legion of Honor
By Elizabeth Marie Himchak
World War II veteran and Rancho Bernardo resident Bernard Fink has been presented with France’s highest honor available to a foreign national.
Fink, 86, recently attended a ceremony in Los Angeles where he received the National Order of the Legion of Honor in the rank of chevalier (knight). He was one of 11 veterans living in Southern California or Arizona to receive the award, presented by David Martinon, consul general of France.
The Legion of Honor is a French order that was established by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1802. It has five degrees, which start at chevalier. Fink said he was asked to apply by a French ambassador.
“I was very pleased,” Fink said, who years ago was first honored by the French when presented with the Croix De Guerre. His other “significant decorations” include the Purple Heart, a Presidential Unit Citation and several campaign medals.
The Brooklyn, N.Y., native said he dropped out of high school during his senior year to join the Army. Because he was 17, Fink’s parents had to give permission.
“I drove them crazy,” he said about his efforts to persuade his parents into finally giving their consent.
He was so adamant to join in 1943 because at that time there was a lot of patriotism among Americans, more than any time since, he said.
“Those were different times,” Fink said. “It was probably the most patriotic war we had ever fought in. … If your name came up, you went. In those days you were not allowed to wear civilian clothes, even on leave.”
Soon after completing boot camp, Fink was sent to Europe to be a tank gunner in the 756 Tank Battalion attached to the 3rd Infantry Division. Within a couple of weeks he was fighting as part of the Ardennes Offensive and helped relieve French troops trapped in the Colmar Pocket.
After a stint with the French 2nd Armored Division because his unit lost its entire battalion strength, Fink said he was promoted to sergeant and made the United States’ youngest tank commander. The teenage Fink oversaw four others in his Sherman tank crew that fought the Germans. Two of the men are still living and Fink has remained in contact, he said.
Though knocked out twice, Fink said he did not receive “a scratch” until three weeks before the war ended. Upon his release from the hospital, Fink said he was assigned to occupation duty in Austria.
After Fink was discharged in May 1946 he returned home and completed his high school education. “I went back as a veteran and was shocked to see so many vets (enrolled),” he said. He later earned a bachelor’s degree from Monmouth College — now Monmouth University — and eventually became president of a large construction firm in San Diego.
Fink, who has lived in Rancho Bernardo’s Oaks North neighborhood for 20 years, said for 60 years his battalion met annually for a reunion. “We can’t meet anymore because there is just five of us left (across the country),” he said. Though not an active member, he joined the American Legion in Julian with his son.
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