Sosebee discusses a shadow box of memorabilia from his days in the military. (Staff Photo: Karen Rohr)
Clarence M. “Bud” Sosebee sits in his retirement apartment in Conyers admiring a ball cap covered in decorative pins. He lists their significance: service in the 69th Infantry Division during World War II; two Bronze stars; a veteran’s badge; Honor Flight to Washington D.C.; veterans honors day at an Atlanta Falcons game; infantry man’s badge; rank of staff sergeant; and the Georgia and U.S. flags.
“My life is on that hat,” he said.
Now Sosebee, 89, can add one more achievement to his lifelong resume — the French Legion of Honor award.
The Consul General of France will present Sosebee with this highest of French honors at a ceremony on April 3, from 1:30 to 3:30 at the Georgia State Capitol, in gratitude for his service to France during World War II.
The Legion of Honor will be bestowed upon eight WWII veterans that day, “to express eternal gratitude to those who liberated it from oppression from 1944-45,” according to a press release from the Consulate General of France in Atlanta.
Sosebee served in the infantry division of the U.S. military for three years and spent several months in France, freeing the country from German occupation.
“I was pleasantly surprised,” said Sosebee of being told he’d achieved the honor. “I’m proud to get that. That’s the highest award you can get. It’s humbling. You think you weren’t that important but you could have been killed.”
When Sosebee landed on the shores of France in November 1944, the tide had turned in World War II and the allies had Germany on the defensive. Still, fighting continued.
Sosebee said he remembers closing in on the Germans and fighting side by side with the French, Italians, Canadians and English — and even the Russians.
Most French people received him with appreciation, with the exception of those French who had aligned themselves with the Germans.
“I think they were thankful to be freed from all the restrictions put on them,” said Sosebee.
One of his strongest memories of being in France is that he learned to ask where he could buy food to eat, emphasizing that he was willing to pay for his food, unlike the Germans who pillaged.
“I didn’t want them to think I was like the Germans,” said Sosebee.
A Cabbagetown native, Sosebee joined the military at the tender age of 18. He served from January 1943 to January 1946, first as a communications non-commissioned officer and then as a staff sergeant.
“He wouldn’t have achieved that rank if he wasn’t doing something right,” said Tommy Clack, who nominated Sosebee for the award.
Clack oversaw the application process for the Legion of Honor award for Sosebee, an effort he began back in 2010. Having served as the field manager for the Georgia Department of Veterans Services in the Conyers division, Clack said he knew of Sosebee’s military background and thought the long-time Rockdale resident would be a perfect candidate for the honor.
Clack said the application process crept along but he stayed on top of it, making phone calls regularly to check on its status. A Vietnam War veteran himself, Clack said when the approval for Sosebee’s application finally came through, he felt gratitude.
“The immediate reaction is one of thankfulness, that and that he specifically earned what has been granted to him,” said Clack.
Clack said Sosebee is typical of those who served in the war effort at that time in history.
“The World War II generation by and large was one of duty, honor and country, and he exemplifies duty, honor and country with what we associate with those willing to sacrifice,” said Clack.
When Sosebee returned home from the war, he earned a degree in electrical engineering from the Georgia Institute of Technology. He married Marie “Leesa” Bice Sosebee, and the couple had two daughters.
He earned a second degree from Georgia Tech in industrial management and a masters in business degree from Georgia State Univerisity, all the while building an international career with Philco, an electronics company known for its battery, radio and television production.
Sosebee moved to Rockdale over three decades ago and served on the Rockdale County Commission for 12 years. He also developed the idea for the Walk of Heroes at Black Shoals Lake, a memorial and future educational facility in Rockdale County designed to inform the public about the different wars fought by the U.S.
Throughout his life, in addition to his career and family, Sosebee has also enjoyed hobbies such as being a pilot, SCUBA diving, playing the guitar and being a rock hound, but it’s clear his military service is a pinnacle in his life. On his walls hang photos of presidents he’s met, a folded U.S. flag, a shadow box filled with his military awards, photos of him speaking with foreign soldiers during World War II, and a map of the plans for the Walk of Heroes.
Those three years in WWII set the course for the rest of his life, said Sosebee.
“I’m as proud as I can be,” he said.