(CBS) — It was a recognition 70 years in the making, but the highest honor in all of France was finally bestowed in west suburban Batavia on Wednesday.
CBS 2’s Vince Gerasole was there when 97-year-old Howard Keskitalo became a Knight in the French Legion of Honor.
Batavia’s VFW Hall is usually more accustomed to a bingo game.
Wednesday, it was the backdrop to an international honor.
Keskitalo was pinned with a medal and kissed on each cheek by a dignitary.
“France is at peace, and it is because of these men,” Frederic Chole, Deputy Consul General Of France, said.
In 1943, with war raging in Europe, Keskitalo was among the Americans who volunteered for The Army Air Corps.
With the 388th Bomb Group, Keskitalo, a navigator, flew 35 missions aboard a B-17, helping the Allied forces push back Hitler’s armies and liberate France in the Second World War.
“I had no doubt I was going to live through the whole thing – I was just dumb, young-dumb,” he jokes.
Karen Redding met Keskitalo when he applied for a veterans distinction on his driver’s license last year. She works with the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs.
“What he did was amazing,” she says.
She documented Keskitalo’s missions and sacrifices and petitioned the French government. That laid the groundwork for the honor.
Others who have received the same honor are Colin Powell and Dwight Eisenhower.