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French Consul General Vincent Hommeril, right, congratulates Louis Graziano last Friday after presenting him with the Ordre national de la Légion d’honneur, France’s highest honor.

Hundreds crowded in last Friday to witness Louis C. Graziano be knighted with the Ordre national de la Légion d’honneur by French Consul General Vincent Hommeril.

Graziano, the last surviving person who witnessed the signing of Germany’s surrender ending World War II, received the French Légion d’honneur in the First United Methodist Church Family Life Center last Friday afternoon surrounded by family and friends. He was a U.S. Army master sergeant and settled in Thomson following the war.

The program for the event stated “Leading his men from Omaha Beach to a little Red School House in Reims, France, as a witness to history itself, Master Sergeant Graziano’s dedication to duty, his fellow soldiers in combat and otherwise, and to the citizens of the free world proves that when there is a fighting spirit coupled with determined drive and resolve, that the lamp of liberty will always light the way of those oppressed.”

The Légion d’honneur is the highest distinction that is awarded by France. His application to receive the honor was approved and signed by French President Emmanuel Macron earlier this year. Friday’s event was co-hosted by Eric P. Montgomery, who has aided other World War II veterans in receiving the award, and Braxton Taylor, Graziano’s great grandson.

“Thank you very much ladies and gentlemen for being here at this celebration of liberty and freedom as we honor a brave and gallant man who some 75 years ago left his home, his family, and those who loved him to participate in what General Eisenhower described as a ‘great and noble undertaking’,” said Montgomery as he opened the ceremony.

Prior to the honor being bestowed on Graziano, several special guest speakers included Louis C. “Butch” Graziano, Randy Foster, and Bob Knox. James Hunter, donned in a cowboy hat and carrying his guitar, sang a song he wrote about Louis Graziano. It was entitled “The War of Hell.”

United States Army Lt. Col. Jacob Meyer addressed the audience and talked of the legacy of those men and women who serve in the military. Then Lt. Colonel Nicolas Pierson, the French liaison officer stationed at Fort Gordon, talked of the ongoing relationship between France and America. He thanked Graziano for his service and expressed gratitude to all the servicemen who sacrificed their lives for freedom. French Consul General Vincent Hommeril, with assistance from Monsieur Pierre Frechette, assistant to the general consul; and Kim Evans, daughter of Louis Graziano; presented the Ordre national de la Légion d’honneur to Graziano.

Immediately following the presentation, all were asked to rise as Jeannie Joesbury sang the French National Anthem. United States Congressman Jody Hice, State Rep. Barry Fleming, and State Sen. Max Burns each had a turn at praising Graziano and thanking him for his service. Hice had a surprise. He explained that Graziano had a wish he wants fulfilled — he wants to meet former President Donald Trump. The congressman explained that is scheduled and Graziano will meet Trump when he is in Georgia very soon.

Burns and Fleming each presented resolutions, one from the state house of representatives and the other from the state senate, to Graziano. Although many international, national, and state officials shared the stage with Graziano last Friday none stole the audience’s attention as much as 11-year-old Wyatt Wheeler.

The youngster had met Graziano earlier this year and the World War II veteran had spent time talking to the young boy and answering questions. Wheeler, who had to stand atop a chair to reach the microphone, delivered a speech entitled “What World War II Means to Me” and then enthusiastically shook Graziano’s hand repeatedly as the audience applauded.