NICHOLASVILLE — Sixty-five years after landing on Omaha Beach under heavy fire in the D-day invasion of France, Army veteran Jesse Beazley will receive the French government's highest military honor.
Beazley, 86, of Nicholasville recently learned that he will receive the French Legion of Honor for his meritorious service during World War II. Created in 1802 by Napoleon Bonaparte, the Legion of Honor is the highest award given by the French republic for outstanding service to France.
"The French don't give this to many people," Beazley said Tuesday during a press conference at Nicholasville City Hall.
The award will be presented at 6 p.m. Sept. 18 at Lighthouse Baptist Church, 105 Shun Pike, in Jessamine County during a ceremony that will also honor more than 40 other veterans. Beazley said the medal was to be given in Chicago, but he wanted the ceremony to be in his home community.
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"I was born here, I raised my family here, I went to the service from here," Beazley said.
"I love Nicholasville, and I love my county. That's the reason that I didn't go to Chicago and accept it there. I wanted it here."
Before 2004, only American veterans who served in France during World War I were eligible to receive the Legion of Honor. In 2004, the French government decided to extend eligibility for the award to American veterans of World War II who served in France.
Before the June 6, 1944, Allied invasion of Normandy, Beazley remembers, Gen. George S. Patton spoke in Great Britain to the U.S. troops who would land across the English Channel at Normandy.
"He said, 'They're telling you when you hit the beaches to dig in.' And he says, 'You won't live to dig in. So when you go in, go as far as you can because the first wave will die anyway,'" Beazley said. "That's the message he gave us, and turned out to be right because we found out when we went in and started digging, we were under tremendous fire.
"I got to the beach, and I found a foxhole. It was like a dream to me. I couldn't hear, and night come, and I stayed in that hole. And I got to wondering what was going to happen. I thought maybe we had failed and they went off and left me and the Germans would come down and kill me at any minute. The only thing I knew to do was to get down in my foxhole and put my rifle between my legs with the bayonet up, in case they jumped in on top of me, and they would hit the bayonet.
"I never spent such a night in life as that, not knowing what to do. But the next morning, I heard someone hollering in English, 'Get up! Get out!' and it was the sergeant, and he led us on in."
Beazley spoke about arriving back in Nicholasville in the early morning hours when very few people were awake. Then-Nicholasville Police Chief Robert Bruner walked him home and knocked on the door. When Beazley's mother saw her son, she fainted and dropped to the floor.
To this day, Beazley said, he has flashbacks of battle scenes from the war. He sleeps on a mattress on the floor because several times he has fallen out of bed during flashback episodes in the night.
He returned to France in 1999 and was heartened to see how the country had been restored from the war's devastation.
"I saw the towns in France that had been completely demolished and torn up," he said. "Seeing the farmers back to work and the kids playing and going to school — they weren't under bondage anymore; they were free."