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November 25, 2012

Local Veteran Awarded French Knight of the Legion of Honor Medal

Congratulations to Russell Taylor. Decades after he landed on Utah Beach in Normandy, Russell Taylor will be presented the prestigious French Knight of the Legion of Honor Medal.

The 95-year-old man, long past his days as an Army soldier, is expected to be given the honor on Sunday in a Veterans Day ceremony at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.

“I was really surprised,” said Taylor, who lives near Centerville. “I certainly didn’t expect it. I really didn’t know what to say.”

The medal marks “the highest distinction that France can bestow upon those who have achieved remarkable deeds for France,” according to the French Consulate in Chicago.

The military award is another notable event in Taylor’s life. He and his wife, Odile, traveled to France this spring through a Wish of a Lifetime award. He walked the beaches he once trekked across as a soldier and renewed his marriage vows to his wife. The Signal Corps soldier met her in her native Paris near the end of the war while he was assigned to Gen. Dwight Eisenhower’s headquarters.

“We renewed our vows there and that started this whole thing for me again,” Taylor said.

Former Olympic skier and NFL player Jeremy Bloom’s nonprofit foundation Wish of a Lifetime in partnership with Brookdale Senior Living gave the couple the opportunity to travel across the Atlantic. NBC Nightly News reported on the couple’s trip this spring.

In the largest amphibious invasion in history, Taylor said he hit the beach three days after D-Day in June 1944.

An IBM employee before and after the war, he employed his civilian know-how in uniform to repair coding machines and string communications wire.

He didn’t know when he first stepped off a landing craft if he’d get the chance to do his job.

“It was sort of messy,” he said. “I didn’t know if we were going to make it or not. All kinds of big ships were still firing onto the land.”

A landing craft nearby had hit a mine. “Some way or another, we made it …” he said. “It was quite nerve wracking. I was quite scared like everyone else.”

France has recognized living American veterans with the French Legion of Honor medal for those who fought on French territory in World War II to liberate the nation from Nazi Germany’s occupation.

“Thanks to their courage, and to our American friends and allies, France has been living in peace for the past six decades,” French Consul General Graham Paul in Chicago said in a statement to the Dayton Daily News. “We shall never forget.” France awarded the medal to Taylor in May, but the formal presentation was set for Veterans Day.