Georgia WWII veteran receives French Legion of Honor

Louis Graziano, a 98-year-old World War II veteran who is believed to be the sole surviving witness to the Nazi surrender in 1945, received the French Legion of Honor at a moving ceremony in Thomson Friday. (Hyosub Shin/Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

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Louis Graziano, a 98-year-old World War II veteran who is believed to be the sole surviving witness to the Nazi surrender in 1945, received the French Legion of Honor at a moving ceremony in Thomson Friday. (Hyosub Shin/Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

“France is what it is today, a free and sovereign country, thanks to the bravery of such veterans and thanks to America”

Thomson Louis Graziano, a 98-year-old World War II veteran who is believed to be the sole surviving witness to the Nazi surrender in 1945, received the French Legion of Honor at a moving ceremony here Friday.

Conceived in 1802 by Napoleon Bonaparte, the medal is France’s highest decoration and is given to French citizens and foreign nationals who have served the country and its ideals. It is also presented to American WWII veterans like Graziano who helped liberate France.

“It was great. I appreciate everything they have done,” Graziano said after hundreds of friends and relatives gave him a standing ovation here at the First United Methodist Church Family Life Center.

Vincent Hommeril, consul general of France in Atlanta, pinned the medal on Graziano’s jacket. Enameled in white and featuring oak and laurel branches and a medallion representing the French Republic, the medal is suspended from red silk ribbon.

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September 17, 2021 Thomson - The Legion of Honor, France’s highest decoration. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

September 17, 2021 Thomson - The Legion of Honor, France’s highest decoration. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

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September 17, 2021 Thomson - The Legion of Honor, France’s highest decoration. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

“France is what it is today, a free and sovereign country, thanks to the bravery of such veterans and thanks to America,” Hommeril said. “You are a true hero. Your example is an inspiration for the future and your legacy provides a moral compass for generations to come.”

A New York native, Graziano is the son of Sicilian immigrants who arrived at Ellis Island. He was drafted in 1943. After landing in France as part of the allied invasion, he pushed all the way to Reims.

A master sergeant in the Army, he was put in charge of helping rebuild and maintain parts of the city, including the little red schoolhouse, where German troops showed up to surrender at the end of the war. Graziano is believed to be the last living witness to that event, according to the French consulate.

After the war, he settled in the Augusta area with his wife of 62 years, Bobbie. She passed away in 2007. Graziano still cuts hair at the brick salon building he built with his bare hands.

Three younger generations of Graziano’s family spoke at Friday’s event. Among the speakers was his son, Louis “Butch” C. Graziano II, who did two tours in the Vietnam War with the Marines and who has received three Purple Hearts.

“It is only by the grace of God that Dad and I survived these wars,” he said. “I am thankful that we both are here with you today. Thank you, Dad. I am proud of you. And I love you. And it is truly an honor to call you my hero and my dad.”

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