In the first wave of soldiers onto Normandy 75 years ago was Richard Southern, of Moulton. He survived, while many of his fellow soldiers did not.
France has tremendous gratitude for people like Southern, said Guillaume Lacroix, Consul General of France in Chicago. Tuesday, Southern was honored in a ceremony to receive France's highest honor: The Legion of Honor.
Now knighted by the French president Emmanuel Macron, Southern is the second Appanoose County man to receive the honor in less than eight months.
Lacroix attended the ceremony on behalf of the country, which he said is so grateful for America and America's greatest generation, who came to the country's aid twice in short time for both World Wars.
"America came to the French people's rescue, and to Europe's rescue, on two occasions in the 20th century," he said. "On the 75th anniversary of D-Day will also be a moment of remembrance."
Historian and author Enfys McMurry delivered a passionate address, laying the history of Southern's service but also the service of others on D-Day and after from Appanoose County.
"Richard reached the top of the bluff, and Omaha beach by mid-afternoon was pretty well under control," McMurry said. "By nightfall things were comparatively quiet."
"Now came the push into France," she continued.
He began fighting inland and headed toward northern France. Southern reached Soissons and Chateau Thierry, where he realized he was on the ground his father would have fought 20 years prior in World War I.
Continuing his advance now in Germany, a worn Southern dug a fox hole.
"In the process, [he] did something so traumatic to his back he couldn't move," McMurry said.
First, he was taken to Belgium and then to a hospital in England.
"Richard was there in the hospital, and as he began to recover they found out he could drive," McMurry said. "And now the war in Europe was beginning to wind down. So Richard drove Jeeps back and forth from England to France, and then a half-ton truck, and then a two-and-a-half-ton truck. In the meantime, Hitler was getting ready to commit suicide."
At the close of the ceremony, Southern thanked those in attendance for their support and those who helped make the event happen.