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Here’s why a local 95-year-old WWII vet was awarded France’s ‘most prestigious honor’
Cpl. David Nelson, 95, was joined by his wife of 72 years, Lillouise, as he was appointed as a knight in the National Order of the Legion of Honour, France's most prestigious honor," for his service in World War II. - photo by Kelly Whitmire

It’s been more than 75 years since the Allied invasion of Normandy on D-Day, and eight decades after the start of the war, a Forsyth County resident was honored for his service by the French government.

On Tuesday afternoon, flanked by the American Flag on one side and the French Tricolour on the other, Vincent Hommeril, Consul General of France in Atlanta, appointed Cpl. David Nelson, 95, as a knight in the National Order of the Legion of Honour in a ceremony at the Phoenix at James Creek, a senior living center in south Forsyth County.

“There was so many of us there, to get special recognition is wonderful,” said Nelson, seated by his wife of 72 years, Lillouise.

Nelson entered into active service in the U.S. Army on April 1, 1943, where he served as a radio operator and forward observer and served in the 739th Field Artillery Battalion. During his time in the war, he served in the Normandy, Northern France, Central Europe and Rhineland military campaigns and was awarded the American Theatre Ribbon, European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal, WWII Victory Medal and a Silver Star for gallantry in action in 1944.

He described his service as “frontline most of the time. In fact, that’s what they used me for because that was about all I knew,” and said the recognition took him by surprise.

“Oh my goodness, I’m overwhelmed. I had no idea,” he said, later adding, “It’s just amazing, and it is so very heartwarming and exciting.”

Hommeril said the designation was awarded on behalf of French President Emmanuel Marcon and was the country’s highest honor.

“The National Order of the Legion of Honour was created by Emperor Napoleon in 1802 to recognize individuals who have served France or the ideals it upholds,” Hommeril said. “The medal is France’s most prestigious honor and bestowed upon French citizens as well as foreign nationals, including veterans such as the Americans who risked their lives during World War II fighting on French soil.”

Hommeril said the two nations were “bound in blood,” always stood shoulder to shoulder to defend democracy and  “owe each other their very existence as free nations” for France’s involvement in the Revolutionary War and America’s involvement in World War II.

“More than 70 years ago, Mr. Nelson risked his life for the freedom of France and Europe,” Hommeril said. “France is what it is today, a free and sovereign country, thanks to the bravery of such veterans and thanks to America. We are now decades away from World War II, and yet, we still pay homage to these veterans, to the legacy of their courage and the fight for freedom in a time of darkness and despicable ideologies that came to power in Europe.”

The ceremony also featured comments from several other leaders, including a presentation from Forsyth County Commissioners and letters from Rep. Rob Woodall and Sen. David Perdue.

“Your service to the United States Army, as well as the bestowing of the Good Conduct Medal and the World War II Victory Medal, have made the state of Georgia very proud,” said Andrew Seaver, a staff member who read a letter on Perdue’s behalf.