When forces from the United States, the United Kingdom and Canada stormed the beaches at Normandy, France on June 6, 1944, it marked the beginning of the end for Nazi Germany and World War II. Thousands of men took part in a battle on the beaches, on the sea and in the air. The successful, but deadly, operation paved the way for Allied forces to liberate Europe from Adolph Hitler’s war machine.
Mitchell veteran Jimmy Traupel was one of those men. And the French government will honor him for his contribution to the liberation of France with the French Legion of Honor at a special ceremony Wednesday, Aug. 21 at Veterans Park in Mitchell. The event is scheduled to begin at 10:30 a.m.
Craig Bennett, veterans service officer for Davison County and one of the coordinators of the ceremony, said receiving the Legion of Honor is a considerable honor.
“This is the highest order of distinction,” Bennett said. “I can’t directly equate it to the Medal of Honor, but it’s obviously the highest award the French give out.”
Details of the ceremony are still in the planning stages, but he said Guillaume Lacroix, consul general of France to the Midwest Region, will be on hand from Chicago to officially present the award to Traupel.
The Legion of Honor was created to reward eminent military and civil merits in the service of France. It is the highest distinction that can be conferred in France on a French citizen as well as on a foreigner. Napoleon Bonaparte, first consul for the First Republic, established the award in 1802. Notable recipients over the years have included Douglas MacArthur and Dwight D. Eisenhower.
The award is being presented 75 years after the famous landings in Normandy and south France. Traupel was serving as a waist gunner aboard a B-17 during the operation, helping clear a path for the soldiers who eventually took the beaches and began their push inland.
Traupel, 96, was a member of the 379th Bombardment Group, 8th Air Force. He flew 34 combat missions during World War II. He was awarded the Purple Heart Medal, the Air Medal with three Oak Leaf Clusters, the Distinguished Flying Cross, the European-African-Middle Eastern Medal with two battle stars, the Good Conduct Medal and one Overseas Service Bar.
Two other South Dakota World War II veterans will also receive the Legion of Honor at separate ceremonies. Orville B. Lerew will receive his at a presentation in Faulkton Thursday, Aug. 22 at the Methodist Church at 11 a.m. Kenneth R. Higashi will receive his at Meier Hall on the campus of Black Hills State University in Spearfish Friday, Aug. 23 at 10 a.m. Lacroix will present both of those awards, as well.
Bennett encouraged the public to attend the Aug. 21 ceremony in Mitchell. He said there are fewer World War II veterans every year, noting that there are about 30 surviving World War II veterans in Davison County. This will be a chance to show appreciation for what those who served during the war accomplished for peace throughout the world, he said.
“This is history that is here in town. He has some amazing stories, and when you’re talking with a guy who flew missions to clear a path for the invasion, it brings a reality to that history,” Bennett said. “He is one of the guys that did this stuff.”
The Aug. 21 ceremony will be moved to the Corn Palace in the event of inclement weather, Bennett said.