But he’ll take it. He did, after all, leave some of his blood on a battlefield in southern France.
The medal was pinned on Estepp by Dr. Terry Johnson, a colonel in the Ohio National Guard and a state representative-elect, at a Veterans Day recognition ceremony Thursday at Northwest Elementary School, with the student body of more than 800 students looking on.
“It is given to soldiers who did so much in helping to liberate France from Hitler’s forces,” Johnson said. “It should have been given to him a way back there, more than 65 years ago.”
The Legion of Honor Medal, initiated by Napoleon, is the highest honor France can bestow on those who “achieved remarkable accomplishments,” the citation read.
Estepp said later he’s not sure why, in so far as he can yet determine, none of those who fought with him received the medal, nor none of those who went in at Normandy on D-Day, for that matter.
He went into the Army in August 1943 shortly after graduating from McDermott High School. As a member of Company E, 142nd Infantry Division, he fought the Germans up through Italy and then over into southern France.
On Oct. 5, 1944, as Estepp and his fellow soldiers fought their way toward the Rhine River and Germany, near the town of Tendon in the Vosques Mountains, a burst from an enemy machine gun went between his arm and his rifle. Bullets hit the rifle and it exploded, sending shrapnel and wood splinters from the gunstock into him.
“I had a New Testament and a fountain pen in my breast pocket. It destroyed the pen, and I think the bullet that hit my rifle glanced off the New Testament and the buckle on my cartridge belt,” Estepp said.
The war was over for him. He spent the next 13 months in hospitals in Italy, France, Florida and Alabama.
“I was lucky, you might say, for my division went on into the Battle of the Bulge, where it suffered many casualties,” Estepp said.
He began receiving mail about the Legion of Honor Medal in July from the French Embassy in Chicago, telling him he was eligible for the medal. They could sent a representative of the French government to bestow the medal on him or he could receive it and make his arrangements.
“I elected to have them mail it to me and I got it three weeks ago,” Estepp said. The Embassy people said the medal was given to soldiers who did so much for France.
“Thanks to their courage, France has been living in peace for six decades now. You and your fellow soldiers, many of them who did not return home, we are thankful for your courage,” the citation with the medal said. “You are heroes. We will never forget you. Our American friends saved us.”
Part of Thursday’s program included Pfc. Amber Murphy, a soldier serving in Camp Adder, Iraq, appearing as an image on an 8-foot by 12-foot screen and talking to her niece, fifth-grader Mollie Ferrar, on the stage.
Young Ferrar shared her thoughts on “What a Veteran Means to Me” with her aunt and the audience. She was the winner of the essay contest held on the subject.
The “Star Spangled Banner” was sung by the fifth-grade chorus.
Ronda Sissel, secretary at the elementary school, coordinated the Veterans Day activities at the school.
Many veterans in the audience were recognized by Johnson, the speaker for the event.
G. SAM PIATT can be reached at (740) 353-3101, ext. 236.