GADSDEN, Ala. (Tribune News Service) — Decades have passed since Allied forces strived for the liberation of France from the Nazis during World War II, but the French government, it seems, has not forgotten those who fought for their country.

One of those was Gadsden's E.D. Witherspoon, and this month the Consulate General of France in Atlanta awarded the World War II veteran France's highest order of merit, the Legion of Honor.

The Legion of Honor is bestowed upon French citizens as well as foreign nationals who have served France or the ideals it upholds. That includes individuals who have contributed to the country professionally, as well as veterans such as Americans who risked their lives during World War II fighting on French soil.

French President Emmanuel Macron designates recipients of the Legion of Honor.

The commendation puts Witherspoon in the company of U.S. Legion of Honor recipients that include Generals Dwight D. Eisenhower and Douglas MacArthur and, as an institution, the United States Military Academy at West Point.

Witherspoon entered into active service in the U.S. Army Air Force on March 24, 1943, according to a brief history of his military career from the Consulate General's office.

As an Armorer/Gunner of the 451st Bombardment Group, Witherspoon participated in the Southern France, Air Offensive Europe, Air Combat Balkans, Naples-Foggia and Rome-Arno military campaigns. Among his actions, he participated in a mission targeting the Ploesti Oil Refinery in Romania, during which he was wounded.

In 1944, the crash landing of his aircraft near Pristina led to his capture along with the other men.

Witherspoon was one of the thousands of prisoners of war who were forced westward by foot during the "Black March," until his liberation by British forces in Germany in 1945.

German forces marched prisoners of war across Germany, often in blizzard conditions, and many suffered starvation conditions and disease.

In 1949, Witherspoon became a member of the U.S. Army Reserve, where he served until his retirement in 1984.

Lindsay Vidal, communications and press attaché for the French Consulate, said normally the Legion of Honor is presented in an in-person ceremony, but Witherspoon's family asked that he receive his award by mail, which he did last week.

The Legion of Honor is an order of distinction established by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1802. About 15 years ago, former President Jacques Chirac established a policy of decorating American veterans who risked their lives fighting in French territory during World War II with the insignia of the Knight of the Legion of Honor.

France's highest merit is far from the first decoration Witherspoon has received.

His decorations include the European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Ribbon with five Bronze Stars, the Air Medal with one Bronze Oak Leaf Cluster, the Purple Heart and the POW medal.

Currently, there are 93,000 recipients of the Legion of Honor, including but not limited to World War II veterans.

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