It was a big morning for 86-year-old Gilbert Pritzel of Holts Summit. As a teenager thrust into the madness of World War II, Pritzel was an infantry soldier, apparently, a first-rate infantry soldier.
Time and again, Staff Sergeant Pritzel displayed courage in the face of the enemy, earning him during that war five bronze stars, Gov. Jay Nixon said.
Now, 65 years after the experience, Pritzel has been recognized by the government of the people he helped to liberate from the Nazis.
Before marching triumphantly into Berlin, Pritzel fought his way across France as part of the American force that drove the Nazi invaders back to the Rhineland. In researching Pritzel's service for a news article, Jeremy Amick of the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary submitted the mid-Missouri veteran's name for the French Legion of Honor Award. The French Legion of Honor was established by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1802 and is highest decoration given in France.
"Their service must have some kind of type of combat focus, obviously, and they had to have participated with the liberation of France, Amick said.
Pritzel spent two years in Europe.
When he came home he was still too young to vote or buy a drink in a bar. But he returned with vivid stories such, as the night he stood guard over a truck and pointed his weapon at Dwight Eisenhower when the commanding general failed to give a timely password.
Ten years ago, Pritzel went back to the old war zone for the first time in half a century. Much had changed. Some things had not.
"They're still really nice people, Pritzel said. They just, they treat you like you're somebody special.
Some four dozen relatives showed up in mid-Missouri over the holiday for a family reunion. The timing was perfect.
Niemeier said that her father is very honored to receive the award.
"For him to be recognized by the French government just makes it more special, Pritzel's Daughter Kay Niemeier said.