Humble hero honored

WWII veteran Mickey Dorsey (right) receives the French Legion of Honor medal (shown below) Friday from French Deputy Consul Etienne Abobi at Charleston City Hall.

Sixty-five years later, France said thank you to Lowcountry resident Mason "Mickey" Dorsey.

The former GI, now 85 but still spry and fit enough to wear his woolen uniform, was awarded the Legion of Honor in a small ceremony Friday marking the contribution he made freeing France during World War II.

Etienne Abobi, French deputy consul, said Dorsey was among the thousands of Americans who left home to help France regain "its liberty, its pride."

"Mr. Dorsey, you are a hero," Abobi said in Charleston City Hall. The award will "keep alive for future generations the memory of such a supreme courage."

Dorsey, who lives on Seabrook Island, seemed humbled. "I'm at a loss to express this," he said. "It's just such an honor that I never thought would come my way."

Dorsey's story of sacrifice is similar to those of the millions of American servicemen who interrupted their life to fight enemies overseas from 1941-45. But it is different in many ways as well.

Born missing three fingers on his left hand, the 18-year-old Chester native and Clemson University student repeatedly was turned down for enlistment by the Navy, the Air Corps and the Marines.

But Dorsey never gave up while others, including his roommate, future author James

Dickey, left for the fight. The Army eventually took him on the condition he be categorized "limited service," which meant staying stateside.

That changed when he rated high on various tests. He eventually was assigned to combat duty in France in January 1945 as part of a reconnaissance detail.

As a member of the 71st Calvary Recon Troop, Dorsey traveled all over France in a heavily weaponed armored car with three other troopers, all from Southern states. They called themselves "the Four Rebels."

The men were engaged in various actions, liberating town after town. Some of the most severe shelling he endured came at the French town of Bitche where they spent the bombardment hiding under the protection of their armored vehicle.

"The flashes and the noise and the explosions were" eye-popping, he said, noting that the men who fought there called themselves "the Sons of Bitche."

After crossing France, Dorsey was one of the first American liberators of the Gunskirchen Lager concentration camp in Austria, home to some 14,000 inmates. He said the prisoners were so starved that they ate the cigarettes his men gave them along with their food rations. His photographs and letters describing the camp have been donated to the College of Charleston's Holocaust studies program.

Weeks later, Dorsey finished the war as one of the last American POWs to be taken by the Nazis. In early May 1945, his recon group had moved deeper into Austria as part of the farthest eastern thrust that was agreed upon for U.S. troops. Riding in an armored car, he and his men passed by thousands of German troops milling about repeatedly telling them "the war is over" in German.

Despite his alerts, German Gen. Lothar Von Rendulic wasn't ready to give up the cause, or to turn over his tens of thousands of troops to the Allies. Dorsey and the other members of his patrol were kept prisoners for the last few hours of the war, on May 7, 1945.

It was a loose incarceration. Dorsey was allowed to wander around, talking to the at-ease Germans waiting for them to give up.

"One of our guys went out and had a beer with some German soldiers," he said.

This isn't the first time France has recognized a local veteran of World War II. Last year, Stephen M. Carney of Mount Pleasant received the Chevalier de la Legion d'Honneur for his efforts in helping liberate several cities while fighting in France during 1944 and 1945. It's at that ceremony where French officials spoke to Dorsey and learned of his contributions during the war.

The Legion of Honor is France's highest merit for civilians and soldiers. It was established by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1802.

Dorsey said the award means something for him and the men he served with. "I'll be proud to pass it on to my children," he said.