Sunday, December 2, 2007

Former Washington Post executive editor Benjamin C. Bradlee received the French Legion of Honor, the highest award given by the French government, at a ceremony Saturday in Paris.

The French president's diplomatic adviser, Jean-David Levitte, called Bradlee "a faithful friend of France" and presented him with the legion's red-ribboned medal.

Levitte, a former ambassador to Washington, said that "during the difficult days of my tenure in the United States, at the height of the controversy over Iraq, you were one of those who stood up to denounce French-bashing. I remain infinitely grateful."

"You know our country well in its unadorned reality, and as an old friend, you feel deep tenderness for it," Levitte added. "It was more than time for France, in its turn, to demonstrate its friendship and gratitude."

Levitte said that about 500 Americans -- many of them World War II servicemen involved in the D-Day invasion -- have received the award established by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1802 to recognize military, scientific, cultural and social contributions to France.

Bradlee, now vice president at large for The Post, worked as a press attache with the U.S. Foreign Service in Paris from 1951 to 1953 and as Newsweek's Paris-based European bureau chief in the mid-1950s.

In 1956, the French government ordered that Bradlee be expelled for his reporting on Algeria's National Liberation Front rebels. Bradlee said he carried the expulsion order in his wallet for years, along with another order annulling it.

In his autobiography, "A Good Life," Bradlee describes the effect the incident had on his career: "Despite the fact that I had failed to get the story, my arrest put me on the map."

His mother, Josephine deGersdorff Bradlee, received the Legion of Honor for her work on behalf of French children during World War II.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company