6.19 Veteran

French Consulate Vincent Hommeril bestows the Legion of Honour upon Henry Bennett, 99, at the Collins Veterans Home on Wednesday morning.

A resident at the Collins State Veterans Home has received one of France’s highest honors — the Legion of Honour.

World War II veteran Henry Howard Bennett, 99, of Sumrall served in the U.S. Army Air Corps and is a 100 percent disabled American veteran. Last October, Bennett was also awarded the Medal of a Liberated France — a medal given by the French government to those who helped free France from Nazi occupation during World War II. 

He smiled as family members and friends gathered with him for the honor on Wednesday.

“Never in my father’s life did a farm boy from Mississippi expect to be a French knight,” his son Jimmy Bennett said at the ceremony. “My dad is my hero, and I’ve known it for a long time.”

His father’s military service started March 17, 1943 in the Army Air Corps, where he was trained as an airplane and engine mechanic. He left for World War II on April 6, 1944 — two months before the D-Day invasion of France. His primary role was a front or nose gunner, and he flew more than 30 missions during battles and campaigns over Europe — in Normandy and the Rhineland Offensive in Germany.

“I’m proud to have served in Normandy,” Bennett said of his award and service.

Bennett was assigned to a B-24 in England before crossing into France and served as an airplane and engine mechanic on a 747 Nose Gunner B-24 Liberator. Of the 30 missions he flew, 21 were in France. Then, on his 24th mission, his plane was shot down right before he made it back to base, which was listed on a missing-in-action report.

Bennett also served among the first wave of bombers on D-Day and in other battles in the invasion of Normandy and the Battle of the Bulge. Now, he is honored with one of France’s highest honors more than 70 years later from French Consulate Vincent Hommeril, who bestowed the title of knight and the Legion of Honour to Bennett, as his family and friends joined the presentation.

Laurel Councilman Kevin Kelly helped put on the celebration of Bennett and introduced the guest speaker Hommeril.

“I am deeply honored to bestow the insignia of the Legion of Honour upon Mr. Henry H. Bennett, a U.S. World War II veteran,” Hommeril said. “The medal is awarded on behalf of the President of the Republic of France, Emmanuel Macron.”

The National Order of the Legion of Honour was created by Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte in 1802 to recognize individuals who have served France or the ideals it upholds. It’s given to French citizens and foreign nationals, including veterans, who risked their lives during World War II.

In December 2014, James B. Jones, of Laurel, a member of the U.S. Army’s 761st Tank Battalion D Company, and five other U.S. Army veterans were bestowed the Legion of Honour at a ceremony at Camp Shelby.

Other Americans to have been awarded this honor were Gen. Douglas MacArthur, Clint Eastwood, Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, Gen. George Patton and Arnold Swarzenegger, among others.

“We are now decades away from World War II, and yet, we still pay homage to these veterans, to the legacy of their courage and their fight for freedom in a time of darkness and despicable ideologies that came to power in Europe,” Hommeril said. “Today, we remember that the French-American friend- ship is bound in blood and that our two countries owe each other their very existence as free nations.”

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