After long wait, WWII vet to finally get his prestigious medal

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wwltv.com

Posted on June 5, 2014 at 10:31 PM

Updated Friday, Jun 6 at 5:38 AM

Karen Swensen / Eyewitness News
Email: kswensen@wwltv.com | Twitter: @karenswensen

NEW ORLEANS -- Friday, on the 70th anniversary of D-Day, several veterans will receive at the National World War II Museum France's most prestigious medal for helping to liberate their country.

Among them will be a local veteran whose story we first brought you two years ago, only he didn't storm the beaches of Normandy, but the beaches of Italy in a Higgins boat.

“I remember the first time I saw you all dressed up in your uniform and I remember saying to myself, boy, how magnificent," said Kenny Lussan.

On Kenny Lussan's 71st birthday, he and his dad Eugene Lussan relived the moment they met -- not the day he was born, but the day his dad returned home from World War II.

Kenny was just a toddler back then. His dad is 93 now, but both remember it well.

“And the train stopped for an hour there and I got out and saw my son for the first time," Eugene Lussan said. "He was 2 years old.”

Now, seven decades later, Kenny is celebrating his birthday by watching the man who's always been his hero be made into a national hero in the country he helped liberate.

“It's also a recognition for this part of World War II, which took place in Italy, and so for the liberation of Europe, for the liberation of France, that's why we are so grateful to you," said French Consul General Jean Claude Brunet.

Brunet personally traveled to Lussan's Mandeville home to tell him on D-Day, the American veteran will receive France's highest military medal, the French Legion of Honor.

If Lussan looks familiar to you, perhaps you saw his story two years ago.

“This is my first time I’m ever publicly saying anything about the war," Eugene Lussan said then.

In 2012, Eugene Lussan modestly talked about fighting the Nazis in northern Africa and then in Italy where he first served under General George S. Patton.

“The first words out of his mouth were, 'Killers, killers. That's what you are. Killers.'" Eugene Lussan said.

And then, as a medic, he was detached to the French expeditionary force under General Charles Degaulle, whose hand he shook and wounded staff he saved.

“He made me look like a shrimp, he was so tall, he was a big man. I just felt like I was shaking hands with a legend.”

For his life-saving efforts, Lussan was promised the French Croix de Guerre, but he didn't stick around long enough to receive the medal because it also earned him a spot on the first flight home.

And all these years later, he didn't expect any special recognition because he couldn't prove his story.

“The records of our outfit and others burned,” he said.

And he didn't think anyone cared anymore.

“I never did talk about the war to anybody. I didn't tell them anything that I did or what happened or anything else because nobody asked me. They could care less.”

But that's where Lussan was wrong. Very wrong.

After watching his original story, Michel Tourniaire, a Franco-American living in New Orleans who had never met Lussan, made it his personal mission to get him the recognition he deserved.

For the past two years, he's combed through American and French records, finally finding the proof in this French book by a noted historian. It was all the French government needed.

“So we managed to identify precisely the event you have mentioned, the part of the campaign you have participated.”

Mission accomplished.

This week, Lussan will receive France's highest honor and Tournaire will have, on some level, repaid the veteran who liberated his hometown 70 years ago.

“While I have the opportunity, I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for being a historian and having the trouble of looking through all of this literature and verifying the things I had no way of proving because of the fire.”

Lussan said to Tourniaire, “I want to thank you more than anything, thank you very much.”

“I thank you. I was too young to fight. I just want to make sure we recognize the ones who fought," Tourniaire said.

Although Lussan originally sought the prestigious Croix de Guerre medal, it turned out that it had been awarded to his whole unit, but once the French government reviewed the research on Lussan, it decided to bestow upon him an even bigger honor, the French Legion of Honor.

 

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