‘We will never forget.’ Kentucky WWII veteran, POW receives highest French honor

For 265 days, a World War II veteran from Kentucky was a prisoner of war following his fight at the D-Day invasion.

On Friday, almost 75 years after he fought in Normandy and was taken by enemy soldiers, Alvin Perry, 95, was recognized for his service to both the U.S. and France. He was awarded the French Legion of Honor and other recognitions.

In a crowded room of the Thomson-Hood Veterans Center in Wilmore, Perry was recognized by an array of guests and speakers, including Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, Jessamine County Judge-Executive David West and Gov. Matt Bevin, over a prerecorded video.

Denny Hart, who presented Perry’s story to the audience, said that in 2014 he had the idea to find and speak with veterans, to listen to their stories. Hart discovered Perry online and asked to hear his story. While initially skeptical, Hart said Perry later opened up and shared his experience with him over the following months.

On June 6, 1944 Hart said a 20-year-old Perry was awakened and told D-Day had begun. Perry was wounded in action and taken as a prisoner of war 24 days later. After being captured, Perry was taken to one of the largest German war camps, where approximately 150,000 fellow prisoners were being held, Hart said.

During his research, Hart said he discovered the French Legion of Honor and thought Perry would fit the description. In 2017, Hart said he sent the French government Perry’s story, featuring Perry’s own words, for consideration.

French President Emmanuel Macron is the only person who can officially award the French Legion of Honor, said Guillaume Lacroix, consul general of France to the Midwest. While he said he was not in the room when Perry’s story came across Macron’s desk, Lacroix said he believes it was not a difficult decision based on his service.

Created in 1802 by Napoleon, Lacroix said the Legion of Honor is now the highest honor in France. He said it is meant to honor individuals who contribute to the well-being of France and who have accomplished exceptional deeds, a description he said fits Perry’s actions.

Lacroix said the 75th anniversary of D-Day was both a day of remembrance for the fallen heroes and of gratitude toward the U.S. He said it is an honor to come and thank Perry on behalf of all French people, his family and the French president.

“I speak behalf of the dead, and the generations to come in France,” Lacroix said. “We will never forget, we will never forget your sacrifice.”

Lacroix said he knows of five Kentucky veterans who have received the French Legion of Honor in the past two years.

“It is very important for the French government to recognize every individual,” Lacroix said. “Through the individuals, we recognize the community.”