PEORIA, Ill. — A central Illinois WWII was awarded the Legion of Honor Medal on Friday.
Edwin Eugene ‘Gene’ Neeley received the highest distinction France can give.
Neeley began his service in 1943 as a member of the 5th Army, 2nd Replacement Depot.
For his service during WWII he received the European-African-Middle Easter Campaign Ribbon with one silver battle star, four overseas service bars, the Good Conduct Medal and the WWII Victory Medal.
Neeley participated in the Naples-Foggia, Rome-Arno, Southern France, Rhineland and Central Europe Campaigns.
“It’s quite an honor, never thought I would ever receive such a high award,” Neeley said.
“It means a lot to me and the French people, we are here to honor a true American hero, Gene Neeley. But today, he will become a true French hero. A hero of two nations,” said Frances’ Consul General to the Midwest Guillaume Lacroix.
“I just can’t imagine anything of this magnitude would be so nice, but it’s such an honor,” Neeley added.
“Every French family has a story to tell about World War II. Without America, France would not be an independent country anymore. It changed everything in my country, it changed our destiny forever. And for that, we are forever grateful,” Lacroix said.
“He came to my country, France, to end the war and to liberate my people from foreign occupation. This gentleman is a hero, and it is very important for the French people to say ‘thank you.’ And through him to say ‘thank you’ to all American soldiers who came to Europe to liberate our continent,” Lacroix added.
“I served Army, went through Europe and when you’re in the service, you’re supposed to do what they say, but it’s an honor to be a veteran and do what I did for my country,” Neeley said.
Neeley was joined by loved ones and fellow comrades when he received this special award.
“A group of people, we go every Monday to the 50/50 Diner, and of course you can’t do without those kind of people,” Neeley said.
Neeley is an active volunteer for the Greater Peoria Honor Flight.
He also received a proclamation signed by Peoria mayor Jim Ardis.