Miss. WWII vet receives French Legion of Honor

Published 1:27 pm Thursday, December 17, 2009

A World War II veteran from Mississippi has received the National Order of the Legion of Honor, France’s highest military honor.

Vernon Gibbs wiped away tears Monday as the medal was pinned on him during a ceremony in Meridian.

The 84-year old Newton County resident said there were days as a young infantryman with the 45th Infantry Division he didn’t think he’d see the next sunrise. He certainly didn’t expect this.

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Larry Wert from the office of U.S. Rep. Greg Harper, R-Miss., pinned the medal on Gibbs.

Wert said the medal is being bestowed upon American service members who helped liberate France and who have been highly decorated by the United States for bravery and valor. Gibbs is one of them.

“I can’t really say what this means to me,” Gibbs said, choking back tears. “I never thought I would get this. I can’t really believe this day has finally come.”

Gibbs recalled hellish battles on the shores of Italy during late January and February 1945 with his unit fighting its way through France and into Germany.

“I still don’t know how I got through all that,” he said. “God was watching out for me.”

Especially on Jan. 17, 1945 when during a massive, six-hour German artillery barrage in the mountains surrounding the small town of Rambervillers, France, Gibbs and two other men first laid a communication line and then ran up and down its entire length in the shelling to ensure battalion headquarters could talk to their company commanders on the front lines.

“It was too rocky to dig a foxhole so we dodged in between boulders and rocks,” said Gibbs.

For this action Gibbs was awarded the Bronze Star, a U.S. decoration awarded for bravery, acts of merit, or meritorious service. It was this decoration that drew the attention of French officials as they ran their lists of veterans who deserved the Legion of Honor medal, equivalent to America’s Medal of Honor.

The Legion d’honneur or Ordre national de la Legion d’honneur was established by Napoleon Bonaparte May 19, 1802.

“I’m just so happy for him,” said Gibbs’ daughter, Deborah Parker. “For him to finally get this medal means the world to him.”