In France, there is no higher military or civilian award than the Legion of Honor. On Friday, it was an American World War II veteran and Centerville resident Edward Bellendier who was pinned with the award.
Representatives from the American and France governments were on hand for an overwhelmingly patriotic display for a member of America's greatest generation.
Guillaume Lacroix, Consul General of France in Chicago, made note of the similarities between the Iowa and France flags, and also the French-style name of this American soldier. But once the joking was aside, Lacroix gave the greatest gratitude to America's involvement in War World II, which helped liberate France in 1944.
Ed Bellendier was in France in 1944, wounded during a fight in November that year.
He fought in the Yankee Division, formally the 26th Infantry Division.
Ed Bellendier was already a decorated veteran for his service, receiving both the Purple Heart and Bronze Star. The story told by his nephew, Don Bellendier, would leave little doubt as to why.
While fighting in November of 1944, a month after putting his boots into French soil, Ed Bellendier was shot.
His wounds were significant. The bullet landed in his chest, causing considerable internal damage. He was left to lay in the trenches until nightfall.
"Aside from losing consciousness off an on, he had a beautiful visual of the sky above him and noticed a German spotter plane one time, flying over the countryside," said Don Bellendier. "His thought at the time was, 'Oh geez, I hope he doesn't drop a bomb on me.'
"At one point, there were two German soldiers above him smoking cigarettes, and speaking German. Probably flicking their ashes down into the trench and paying no mind to the young GI laying at the bottom."
Darkness would later fall. Ed Bellendier began a long trek back to American lines, at this point a wounded soldier missing in action.
He crawled, across fence lines and streams. He is still bothered by trench foot to this day.
"Suffering from a collapsed lung, a loss of blood, and hunger, he would walk some distance and rest," Don Bellendier said. "Eventually, he came across a young dead GI who still had his pack with him. He discovered some rations in the dead soldier's pack, and was able to eat."
Ed Bellendier was eventually found by a small patrol within his unit. Though they are first weren't aware he was an American soldier, as dirty as he was from the long trek. He was greeted with rifles pointed first before later receiving aide.
He was helped to a field hospital and treated, before being taken to Paris by ambulance. Eventually, he was taken by plane to western England where he was operated on by a surgeon named Paul Zoll, inventor of the defibrillator and the pacemaker. Zoll was assisted by Dwight Harken, originally from Osceola, Iowa, who performed surgery to remove bullet fragments from his heart.
"Here we are, to testify of my people's, my country's gratitude to America's generation," Lacroix said. "Our very special gratitude to Mr. Bellendier for his service in France. He served his country, but in doing so, he served my country. And he saved my country. He saved my country's independence, freedom, right to live in liberty. And he restored our dignity as an independent nation ... after four years of disaster."
"France and America have always been together, on the same side," he continued. "Same side of values, same side of choices, same side of being ready to make the ultimate sacrifice for what we stand for."
Ed Bellendier, now 92, lives in Centerville. He was originally born near Topeka, Kansas in a village called Little Russia to immigrated parents. He grew up in Iowa, and since moved to Centerville to be close to a nephew, David, who lives in Moravia.
While much was said about him Friday, Ed Bellendier himself was a man of few words, though clearly appreciative of the high honor bestowed upon him.
Through others, Ed Bellendier has said he would do it again.
"I know Mr. Bellendier would be ready to do that again," Lacroix said. "But together with our German friends and allies, we won't make that happen. You need to rest. Because now, and thanks to America, Europe is united. We are together. We have reconciled with the German people."