SANFORD – On Dec. 9, 1944, Elvert “Buck” Pooler found himself crouching in a shallow hole that had been carved out by a mortar shell, frantically spraying bullets from his 22-pound automatic rifle at the advancing German patrol.
His regiment, the 313th, had just been ambushed by a German platoon outside Haguenau, a small French town deep in Nazi-controlled territory in northern France. Within minutes of the first retaliatory crack from his rifle, Sgt. Pooler was struck in the head by a German bullet. The wound temporarily paralyzed Pooler’s left side.
It was just one example of the immeasurable sacrifices that Pooler and his comrades made during World War II, sacrifices that the French government is now honoring.
On Wednesday in Sanford, Pooler received the Legion d’Honneur medal, the highest honor bestowed by France, in recognition of his heroism and his part in the liberation of the country in 1944. Several hundred of the Legion of Honor medals have been awarded to Americans since their inception in 1802.
The 85-year-old was honored during a ceremony at the Sanford Springvale Historical Museum attended by family, friends, members of law enforcement and others. The medal was presented by Christophe Guilhou, French consul general of Boston.
“Pooler was ready to sacrifice himself for France,” Guilhou said. “Without Pooler and his colleagues, we wouldn’t be the free country that we are today.”
In addition to the medal, Pooler received a document commemorating his service, signed by French President Nicolas Sarkozy.
“It’s hard for me to believe I’m getting it,” Pooler said of the medal. “I guess it’s because I spent four months and nine days liberating France.”
Pooler grew up in Winthrop and ran track throughout high school. In 1943, he asked a friend’s father, who was on the draft board, to submit his name for the draft.
“Times were different back then,” he said. “My brother had enlisted and I couldn’t wait to get in.”
Pooler got his first combat experience at Utah Beach in Normandy on June 9, 1944, three days after the D-Day invasion began.
“I landed on the beach as a replacement. I didn’t know a soul, and they just said, ‘Go and fight,’” Pooler said.
After the beach was secured, Pooler joined the 79th Infantry Division — known as the Cross of Lorrain because of the small white crosses on blue ribbons that the French gave to the division’s soldiers — and helped recapture the port of Cherbourg.
During the fighting, Pooler sustained his first combat injury.
“A mortar exploded behind me. It spun me around and I caught a piece of shrapnel to my buttocks,” he said.
The wound sent him to a military hospital in England. His first doctor failed to remove the shrapnel, and after three weeks, Pooler still couldn’t walk properly.
“The commanding officer at the hospital accused me of being yellow. But I wanted to go back to the front. I was just too sore,” Pooler said.
After taking X-rays, another doctor finally removed the shrapnel and Pooler returned to the front line.
“My father is not and was not yellow,” said Michael Pooler, a deacon who lives in New Mexico. “He loved this country and was willing to pay for it.”
Michael Pooler said his father always stressed service to his country, as well as sacrifice. “He instilled in me a sense that America is worth giving back to,” he said.
Pooler returned to Cherbourg in 1994 to commemorate D-Day’s 50th anniversary. The residents, ever grateful for their liberation, gave Pooler and his fellow veterans a hero’s welcome that Pooler won’t soon forget.
“We got off the bus and I had to stop. My eyes just filled up with tears,” Pooler said.
The Legion d’Honneur repaid a small part of the debt Pooler is owed. The French medal was added to Pooler’s collection of nine other medals, including a Bronze Star.
“My dad is a humble guy, but this award means a lot to him,” said Michael Pooler. ” It recognizes all the guys who served and sacrificed alongside him.”
Staff Writer Max Monks can be contacted at 791-6345 or at: