Just days following the Allied landings on the beaches of France in support of the famed D-Day operations during World War II, local veteran Raymond Herigon entered combat in France alongside his fellow soldiers of the 42nd Field Artillery, HQ Battery.
For the next several months, the battery - attached to the 4th Infantry Division and commanded by Missouri native Omar Bradley - fought its way across France, Germany, Holland and Luxembourg.
Now, nearly 70 years after first setting foot in Europe, the French government will recognize Herigon with an esteemed symbol of their appreciation for his participation in the liberation of France.
"It is my pleasure as Consul General of France in Chicago to inform you, on the behalf of the people of France, that the President of the French Republic has named you a Knight of the Legion of Honor for your valorous action during World War II," said M. Francois Pellerin, in a letter notifying Herigon of the honor.
Although not exclusively awarded for military service, the Legion of Honor medal is France's highest award and was established by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1802.
Previously the medal was issued only to American veterans of World War I; however, in 2004 the French government extended eligibility to veterans of the Second World War.
To be considered, veterans must have fought in one of the three main campaigns in the liberation of France and submit an application through their nearest consulate with copies of all citations already received from France or the U.S. for meritorious actions during wartime.
The medal is not awarded posthumously.
Herigon, whose military service included combat operations during the Battle of the Bulge, and which led to his receipt of a Bronze Star Medal "for meritorious service in connection with military operations against an enemy of the United States," asserts that he is humbled - and surprised - by his most recent recognition.
"I really didn't think that I'd be up for (the medal) ... I didn't think that I had enough stripes on my shoulder to qualify," the 91-year-old Herigon smiled.
In a private ceremony at the state Capitol later this week, Herigon - in the presence of family, friends and local dignitaries - will be presented the medal by Gov. Jay Nixon and a representative of the French government.
"Even during the darkest days of World War II, America had a total commitment to free the people of Europe enslaved by the Nazis," Nixon said. "That took resolve, courage and, ultimately, thousands of American lives. These 70 years later, we are proud to join the French people in saluting American airmen and soldiers such as Ray Herigon who liberated France."
Following his discharge from the Army in 1945 at the rank of technician fourth grade, Herigon worked briefly in St. Louis and later for several companies in the Mid-Missouri area before retiring in 1984.
As the father of 11 children notes, the receipt of the medal serves as a reminder of many of the fellow soldiers with whom he served, but unfortunately never made it home.
"Some of the guys I knew were killed in action, and there are a lot of people I served with who are certainly just as deserving (of this recognition) as I am," Herigon said. "But I am truly honored ... truly appreciative that I was even considered."
Jeremy P. Ã„mick writes on behalf of the Silver Star Families of America.