Before family and friends, a Lincoln County World War II veteran was given a high honor by a grateful foreign country for efforts to keep freedom alive.
Gene Dwyer, of Troy, was presented with the Knight of the Legion of Honor medal by the country of France. This formal presentation was held Nov. 2 at Zion United Church of Christ.
Bryan Kirchoff, a grandson of Dwyer, served as the emcee. Kirchoff shared a quote from France. This medal is given to “those soldiers who did so much for the liberation of France and Western Europe in World War Two.”
Kirchoff then shared the atmosphere the world was living in during the war some 70 years ago.
“The brutal and evil forces of German Nazi Adolph Hitler were pursuing his quest of world dominance and his barbaric “final solution” to eliminate the Jewish population of Europe” reflected Kirchoff. The Nazis murdered at least 11 million men, women and children and there was a total of 50 million casualties of the war.
Dwyer participated in the American D-Day invasion on June 6, 1944 on the shores at Normandy. He also saw action in another epic battle – The Battle of the Bulge. During is time at the warfront, Dwyer maintained a diary. His wife, Helen, found that diary earlier this year, something no one knew existed.
Dwyer was a member of the Second Signal Corps, Second Infantry Division.
Dwyer received ribbons from having participated in five military campaigns in Europe…Normandy, North France, Rhineland, Ardennes and Central Europe..as a part of the Second Infantry Division.
“It is nearly incomprehensible to imagine what Grandpa went through with his landing on Omaha Beach, action in the Battle of the Bulge and a total of five military campaigns in Europe,” said Kirchoff. “It is equally incomprehensible to try to imagine the vicious treatment being doled out by the Nazis toward millions of Jews from throughout Europe. Millions of men, women and children died in labor and concentration camps. Many died due to starvation or at the hands of the brutal Nazi SS guards. And millions were cremated in these camps, as crematoriums were used to burn the bodies of the dead…and also burn alive, the nearly dead…24 hours a day.”
He then introduced a Holocaust survivor, Ben Fainer who had the honor of pinning the medal on Dwyer. Fainer was forced into Nazi labor and concentration camps with all the other Jews in his small town in Poland. He was in six different camps between the ages 9 and 15, just trying to survive, all through the war. He has now written a book sharing his experiences after decades of silence. The book is titled, “Silent for Sixty Years.”
Fainer share remarks from the war and answered several questions from the crowd.
The Knight of the Legion medal was awarded to Dwyer after a nearly two year effort of documentation by family members. It was awarded this past June by the French president. The Legion of Honor was created by Napoleon in 1802 to acknowledge services rendered to France by persons of exceptional merit.