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Overdue 'merci' extended to Morocco WWII vets

Moroccan veterans who helped France free itself from Hitler’s grip during World War Two are finally being honored 70 years after they played a critical role in the liberation of the island of Corsica.

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French President François Hollande on Friday was paying homage to World War Two veterans and fallen soldiers in a ceremony marking the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Mediterranean island of Corsica.

Commemorations this year include a rare – and long-overdue – tribute to Moroccan veterans who played a decisive role in the first victory in reclaiming France from Nazi occupation.

Eight months before allied forces landed on the beaches of Normandy, Free French Forces, joined by thousands of soldiers for North African colonies and protectorates, triumphed over German soldiers, declaring the island free on October 4, 1943.

History books have often overlooked this symbolic win, and Paris has long neglected the Moroccan soldiers – known as the “goumiers” – who bravely fought for France in Corsica and elsewhere.

Many of those veterans died in anonymity and poverty. A few goumiers are still alive to tell their story.

Hammou Moussik, 98, still proudly displays his World War Two medals.

“Whoever got medals was a good man,” he recently told FRANCE 24 in his home in the northwestern city of Casablanca. “I got these during the war. If I hadn’t been courageous France wouldn’t have given me any.”

Historians say goumiers held little bargaining value for the Nazis, so if captured, they were executed on the spot. Despite suffering many casualties, and playing a critical role in the Corsica campaign, it was only recently that the goumiers received pensions equal to those enjoyed by veterans in France.

According to Maati Monjib, a history professor at Mohammed V University in the city of Rabat, only two percent of the goumiers are still alive to receive this overdue tribute.

Flanked by King Mohammed VI of Morocco, President Hollande on Friday will bestow the Legion of Honour, France’s highest award, to seven Moroccan veterans during the ceremony in Corsica.

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