Daily photo by Jonathan Palmer|
The president of the French Republic has named Decatur native, WWII veteran and POW George Mills a "Chevalier" for service during the liberation of France. Philippe Ardanaz, Consul General of France in Atlanta, pinned the Order of the Legion of Honor on Mills.
Local WWII veteran, POW earns Order of Legion of Honor
By Ronnie Thomas
The French knew they were in the company of heroes Thursday at American Legion Post 15 in Decatur.
Philippe Ardanaz, Consul General of France in Atlanta, pinned the Order of the Legion of Honor on Army veteran and World War II prisoner of war George F. Mills.
Named a "Chevalier" with the rank of knight by the President of the French Republic, the award, created in 1802 by Napoleon, commemorates Mills' service during the liberation of France.
Accepted to applause
Two other 85-year-old Decatur veterans, who also were German POWs in "The Good War," Howard "Mutt" McCord and John Burnett, stood and applauded with about 100 other guests, including Renee Ponchin Barnes.
Barnes, who has lived in Decatur for 40 years, was a young girl when the American soldiers and their allies liberated her country. She gave Mills a bouquet in the blue, white and red colors of France.
An American flag stood at one end of the head table, a French flag at the other, where Barnes sat. At the start of the ceremony, Post Commander Willard Tapscott played a recording of "The Star-Spangled Banner," followed by the French National Anthem. When the music stopped, before taking her seat, Barnes stooped, raised a corner of the U.S. flag to her lips and kissed it.
Deputy Press Attaché Ronan Lhermenier accompanied Ardanaz. They were making their first trip to Decatur.
"Today, we're celebrating the courage of America's heroes and especially the contributions of George Mills," Ardanaz said. He reviewed Mills' record, beginning during the summer of 1944 with his arrival on Omaha Beach shortly after D-Day and how he helped secure the town of Saint Lo before ending up in the Battle of the Bulge.
The Germans captured Mills on Dec. 18, 1944, and he remained a prisoner until April 1945. "He fought to defend the ideals of the free world," Ardanaz said. "Winston Churchill said it best, that 'D-Day marked the beginning of the end (for Nazi Germany).' We never lost hope. We will never give enough praise for those who fought for the liberty of Europe. We must fight together against forgetting. The memories must live on if we want a better future."
Mills acknowledged the rainy, gloomy afternoon by thanking everyone for "coming here on such a miserable day. I thank the president of France and the people of France for seeing fit to honor me. I never dreamed of receiving a medal like this."
Ardanaz said the French, on average, give about 50 of the medals each year in America.
Lhermenier said he believes the last Order of the Legion of Honor issued in Alabama was in January 1999. French cultural attaché Cecila Peyronnet presented it to World War I veteran Tom Rainey Jr. of Mooresville at Cumberland Presbyterian Church. He was two months short of his 104th birthday.
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