TAMPA - Ask Nelson Spoto to close his eyes and picture the invasion of Normandy on D-Day, and he'll tell you he sees fire.
Spoto recalls the whole beach was on fire that June day in 1944, as American, British and Canadian forces stormed the sand and attacked the Germans.
Spoto was aboard the USS Raven AM-55, a minesweeper ship that had combed the water near the beach prior to the invasion, making sure the other ships would have a clear path to the shore.
Spoto, now 86 years old, was 19 on D-Day. He joined the Navy after graduating from Hillsborough High School and was soon assigned to the Raven. He worked as a quartermaster, sweeping for mines on D-Day as well as the invasion of Southern France later that year.
The sacrifices Spoto made 67 years ago have not been forgotten.
In December, the French will make Spoto a member of their Legion of Honor. He will be made a "chevalier," the French term for knight. He has received letters from the French, thanking him for his efforts to help liberate their country from Nazi control.
Spoto calls it "an honor." But if you ask him what he's most proud of about his service, he'll tell you it's something else.
"I realized that I'm an American," Spoto said, tears welling up in his eyes. "That's really something to be proud of. That's really something to be proud of."