CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. - Over a hundred people filled the halls of American Legion Post 74 here, Feb. 20 to witness Virginia Rep. Robert Hurt present the French Legion of Honor to local war hero Carl "Chubby" Proffitt, 93, and to pay tribute to a man who stormed the beaches of Normandy on D-Day with his National Guard unit in 1944.
The French Embassy in Washington, D.C., originally awarded Proffitt the medal in a small ceremony Feb. 15, but the American Legion wanted to honor him in front of his friends and family.
"Tonight Chubby's two sons, Chubby and Sterling, along with his brother Hollis, along with Chubby's friends are here to honor him as the French Government did last week by making him a knight of France's highest national honor, the Legion of Honor, for his part in liberating France and Europe during WWII," said Ron Fisher, organizer of the event.
Even though he received it days earlier, Proffitt still couldn't believe he was selected.
"It hasn't really sunken in yet. I was one of 24 who got this medal, which is the highest French Decoration you can get," he said. "It's the equivalent of the Congressional Medal of Honor in the United States.
"My head is all swollen out like this," he said indicating how large his head was getting from all the attention.
In addition to pinning the award on Chubby, Hurt also presented him with a U.S. flag that flew over the U.S. Capitol.
The evening was filled with guests presenting Proffitt gifts of gratitude, including Army Command Sgt. Maj. Dennis Green, the Virginia National Guard Senior Enlisted Advisor, who presented him with a Virginia state flag flown over the Virginia State Capitol.
"On behalf of the Soldiers, Airmen and the members of the Virginia Defense Force, we thank you for your service and all you've done," Green said, a former command sergeant major of the 29th Infantry Division, which led the assault by the 116th on D-Day.
Soldiers of the 116th Brigade Combat Team presented him with a framed map of Normandy under the condition he give it back to them so they could have it signed by current members of the 116th before they return it to him.
In a surprise move, Charlottesville Mayor Satyendra Singh made his first official declaration in Proffitt's honor during the event.
"He's our hometown boy, who made good and he's been living on Chesapeake Street since 1946," Singh said. "One of the joys of being mayor is you can also do proclamations and declarations and I have been mayor for a short time...so as my first declaration, I want to declare- I, Satyendra Singh, as the Mayor of Charlottesville, declare Monday, Feb. 20th, Chubby Proffitt Day in the city of Charlottesville."
According to Fisher, Proffitt received his nickname from an aunt shortly after his birth. His aunt said, "Isn't that a cute, chubby baby?" and the moniker has stuck.
As a native of Charlottesville, Proffitt attended Lane High School, where he played baseball. He enlisted in the Virginia National Guard in 1939 and was called to active duty in 1941 with the rest of Company K of the 116th Infantry Regiment, 29th Infantry Division of the Virginia Army National Guard.
On June 6, 1944, he led his boat team ashore across the fire-swept Omaha Beach. Two days later he climbed on a damaged tank under heavy machine gun fire at a place called Grand-Camp in France for an effort to rescue a group of trapped Rangers, Fisher said.
The Army later awarded Proffitt the Distinguished Service Cross, the Army's second highest award for his actions.
He fought through the hedgerows of Normandy where as a senior noncommissioned officer he went back out under fire after every assault to check on those who had fallen and to rescue his wounded men. Proffitt was wounded twice during that period and in October 1944 he was given a battlefield commission to second lieutenant.
After the war, he worked as a bus driver, a salesman and for the Charlottesville firm of King and Roberts where he worked his way up to general manager.
He played fast-pitch softball, umpired, and later coached a number of little league, junior league, and American Legion baseball teams. Recently, the city of Charlottesville named the sports complex at McIntyre Park after him.
"I'm just happy to be alive is the only thing I can say. I'm still kicking, but not very high," he said.