Honor, Country and the Pursuit of Medals

What do Parisian Aurélie Dupont and American serviceman Alek Skarlatos of Roseburg, Oregon have in common? Answer: Dupont, until recently the prima ballerina of the Paris Opera, and Skarlatos, who helped subdue a terrorist on the Amsterdam-Paris train, were both awarded the Légion d’Honneur in 2015. Dupont was among the 544 citizens who received France’s iconic national decoration in the July 14 annual distribution of honors: Skarlatos in a special ceremony at the Elysée Palace, along with two other young Americans and an Englishman, in recognition of what President François Hollande called “a lesson in courage, in will, and therefore in hope.”

The ballerina and the American soldier were both named chevalier, the lowest of the order’s five levels; but what they don’t share is membership of the institutional structure that supports the Légion d’Honneur. Deserving (in French eyes) foreigners receive the coveted, red ribboned medal, actually a variation on the eight-pointed Maltese cross, but are not inducted into the Légion, which has its own school for its members’ daughters, and a historic landmark building on


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