Brookfield resident, veteran receives French Legion of Honor medal for World War II service
Brookfield resident Henry Hunt received an early birthday present from the French Consulate in Chicago: the Knight of the Legion of Honor medal.
"It was really a surprise for me," said Hunt, who turns 90 in August. "It's just amazing. I've read about all these veterans in the paper who get a medal 70 years later and now I'm one of them."
Hunt, a World War II veteran, fought as a machine gunner and runner, among other positions, for the U.S. Army. He served for 22 and half months, from 1944 to 1945, and fought in multiple battles, including the Battle of the Bulge.
He was discharged after being severely injured by shrapnel from German tank shells on January 18, 1945.
The Legion of Honor medal is far from Hunt's first commemoration. He received the Bronze Star on May 18, 1948 for exemplary conduct in ground battle against the armed enemy during the Northern France campaign; a Purple Heart on February 2, 1945 for wounds received in action in Belgium on January 18, 1945; and several other decorations.
"Through this (Legion of Honor) award, the French government pays tribute to the soldiers who did so much for France and Western Europe," the French Consulate wrote in a letter to Hunt. "Seventy years ago, you gave your youth to France and the French people.
"… Thanks to your courage, and to our American friends and allies, France has been living in peace for the past six decades. You saved us and we will never forget. For us, the French people, you are heroes."
"It's been such a great honor to get all these American awards," Hunt said, humbled. "But to get this one from France is just frosting on the cake."
Son takes interest
The Legion of Honor medal came as a surprise to Hunt, because he had not applied for the commendation. His son, Patrick, had.
"Dad never really talked about his military experience when we were growing up," said Patrick, one of four siblings. "There had been hints. We knew he fought in (World War II). We knew he fought in some major battles. But we didn't really know too much else."
Then, in 1992, Hunt gave his children a written account of his military experience and copies of his ribbons.
"I thought I should write it all down before it got lost," Hunt said.
In 2004, the family took a trip to Normandy for the 60th anniversary of D-Day — the day the Allies invaded Normandy during the war.
"I think that experience prompted him to open up even more," said Patrick, who now lives in Minneapolis.
As Hunt unveiled more about his military past, Patrick began researching requirements to earn the Knight of the Legion of Honor medal. With his father's documentation in tow, Patrick applied for the medal on his father's behalf.
"I was doing it secretly, until I realized that I needed more information and I had to tell (my dad) what I was doing," Patrick laughed. "It was secret until then.
"I just felt my dad deserved the medal for risking his life in France."
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