‘Ready to sacrifice’
Published 1:21 pm Monday, June 17, 2019
WWII veteran and former POW receives France’s highest distinction
By Olivia Mohr
A large crowd gathered at Thomson Hood Veterans Center in Wilmore June 7, one day after the 75th anniversary of D-Day, to honor Alvin H. Perry, now 95 years old, as Consul General of France to the Midwest Guillaume Lacroix presented him with France’s highest military honor, the French Legion of Honor.
On June 6, 1944, Perry, who was drafted into World War II at age 20, was awakened and told the D-Day invasion had begun.
A mere 43 days later, his shoulder was wounded while he fought at the beaches of Normandy. He was treated in a German hospital and was taken as a prisoner of war for 265 days.
He spent some of his time as a POW in Germany’s largest POW camp where more than 100,000 prisoners were kept.
The French Legion of Honor was established in 1802 by Napoleon Bonaparte.
Perry also received other awards, including a Nicholasville key to the city, and June 7 was named Mr. Alvin H. Perry day in Lawrenceburg — where Perry is originally from — and in Nicholasville and Wilmore.
Speeches at the ceremony included those by Gov. Matt Bevin via a video, Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, Jessamine County Judge-Executive David K. West and retired U.S. Army Brigadier Gen. Benjamin F. Adams, III, who was the keynote speaker and who is also Commissioner of the Kentucky Department of Veterans Affairs.
Lacroix gave a speech before he presented Perry with the Legion of Honor.
Lacroix, who is the grandson of two French POWs, said French President Emmanuel Macron chooses the award’s recipients.
“I really want to thank you from the very bottom of my heart on behalf of President Emmanuel Macron, on behalf of the French people and on behalf of my family,” Lacroix said to Perry during his speech. “I speak on behalf of the dead and the generations to come in France.”
Lacroix said it’s important for the French government to honor WWII veterans individually, especially as the generation ages. WII veterans, he said, are now America’s oldest generation of veterans.
“Through these individuals, we recognize their community, and we recognize the ones who are no longer here,” Lacroix said.
Lacroix also said he wasn’t in the room when Macron made the decision to choose Perry as a recipient of the Legion of Honor, which has been awarded to five Kentucky veterans in the past two years, but he can’t imagine it took Macron long to decide based on Perry’s service.
“During that time in France, he was totally committed and took all the risks,” Lacroix said. “He was ready to sacrifice his life.”
After Perry returned home from war, he started a milk company. He drove 50- to 60-pound cans of milk from Lawrenceburg and surrounding farms to Frankfort to be turned into cheese.
Retired U.S. Army Chief Warrant Officer Three Denny Hart, who wrote “A Soldier’s Anthology: Story-Telling by America’s Veterans” which features a chapter about Perry told in Perry’s own words, said though Perry met many customers through the milk company, he never told them he had been a POW. Hart described Perry as a humble man.
During his speech, Hart said he wrote to the French government and sent Perry’s chapter from the book in 2017.
The application found its way to Macron’s desk, and that’s how the French government found out about Perry’s services.
In 2014, Hart had been trying to find veterans to tell him their stories once he came up with the idea for the book. Through an online search, he discovered an American ex-POW organization, leading him to Perry. Perry seemed hesitant to share his story at first, but he eventually opened up and Hart listened while he learned more about him over the next three or four months. Hart said Perry’s first words to him when he began to tell his story were, “Ready? Bring a towel. We’re going to need it.”
After Lacroix presented Perry with the Legion of Honor, the two hugged, as Perry wore the award pinned on his black jacket.
“I’m thrilled,” Perry said. “I’ve had a wonderful day.”