Ret. Maj. John Sullivan never expected to receive France's highest honor. But 70 years after flying 35 missions in the then-Nazi-occupied nation, that's just what he received.
Sullivan, 90, of Jefferson City, was awarded the Legion of Honor by Gov. Jay Nixon on Friday at the Capitol in front of family and friends. The award is France's highest honor and was established by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1802. For Americans, the medal is issued only for veterans of World War I or World War II and is not awarded posthumously.
Nixon said many American soldiers made the ultimate sacrifice to liberate France and other Nazi-occupied territories during World War II, and the French government is awarding those who served.
"The French people remember," Nixon said. "It's a special moment ... All Missouri shares your pride in this great honor."
In a letter from the French Consulate in Chicago notifying Sullivan of the award, Consul General Graham Paul wrote, "Thanks to your courage, and to our American friends and allies, France has been living in peace for the past six decades ... For us, the French people, you are heroes."
Sullivan was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army Air Corps, the predecessor of the U.S. Air Force, after enlisting in May 1942, less than one year after graduating from Jefferson City High School. He retired from the Air Force Reserve as a major in 1965.
Sullivan said he was excited to receive the award and humbled by the gesture from the people of France. Sullivan specifically thanked Jeremy Amick, public affairs officer for the Silver Star Families of America, for nominating him for France's highest award.
"I'm honored and humbled to accept this honor," Sullivan said. "Seventy years ago, I was a scared second lieutenant flying over Europe, and today all this happened ... I didn't expect all this. I had no idea anything would come of it."