WWII veteran awarded French Legion of Honor

  • Published
  • By 1st Lt. James W. Killen
  • 123rd Airlift Wing Public Affairs
The Consulate General of France bestowed the French Legion of Honor on a Louisville native and World War II veteran during a ceremony here Sept 12. 

In front of more than 900 members of the Kentucky Air National Guard who gathered at Louisville Male High School, U.S. Army Pfc. George J. Merz was presented with France's highest honor for "those who have achieved remarkable deeds for France," according to the award's accompanying citation.

Merz was born Feb. 23, 1925 in Louisville and joined the Army in 1943, three months after his 18th birthday. Nine months after enlisting, Merz found himself on a ship leaving Boston Harbor and on his way to Normandy, where he would participate in the D-Day invasion that would redefine the war.

Merz was assigned to the 818th Military Police Company, the unit famous for being tasked with investigating the roll-over accident that claimed the life of General George S. Patton in 1945.

The young private was awarded a Bronze Star for his actions during the Battle of the Bulge in Bastogne, France. According to Merz, he received the award for maintaining his post and directing Allied tanks while German forces descended upon the area.

"It is an absolute honor to present this award to a member of America's greatest generation," said Col. Barry D. Gorter, commander of the 123rd Airlift Wing, who pinned the medal on Merz's chest on behalf of the government of France.

The French Legion of Honor dates back to Napoleon, who wanted to institute a means of recognizing feats of valor by his troops. The award citation reflects the gratitude of the French people for the bravery and sacrifice of Service Members like Merz.

"Even though it has been 70 years since I was in France, I am very grateful for the award and the recognition," Merz said.

Several of Merz's family members were in attendance for the event, and he was met with numerous rounds of applause from the men and women of the Kentucky Air National Guard.