Oak Ridge resident and World War II veteran Melvin E. Kallio is one of five Tennessee veterans who will receive the prestigious Legion of Honor Medal from France in a ceremony in Nashville in October.
“As an expression of France’s eternal gratitude to those who liberated it from oppression from 1944-1945, the Consul General of France to the U.S. Southeast, Denis Barbet, will bestow the Legion of Honor upon five WWII veterans from Tennessee,” said a press release from the Consulate General of France in Atlanta.
The National Order of the Legion of Honor is the highest honor conferred upon a French or foreign national in France. It was created by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1802, and it recognizes eminent services to the French Republic.
American veterans who risked their lives during World War II and who fought on French territory qualify to be decorated as Knights of the Legion of Honor. Veterans must have fought in one of the four main campaigns of the Liberation of France: Normandy, Provence, Ardennes, or Northern France. Recipients of this honor are designated by the President of the Republic, François Hollande.
Kallio, who said he was 92 in April, fought in Colmar Pocket. He was a machine gunner in the 12th Armored Division, and he and other soldiers had been ready to fight at the Battle of the Bulge.
Here is more information about the five veterans who will receive the Legion of Honor in recognition of their courage:
- Charles R. Warren Jr. from Sparta, Tennessee—staff sergeant, 510th Bombardment Squadron, 351st Bombardment Group
- Elmer E. Marler from Lebanon, Tennessee—technician fifth grade, Headquarters Company, 2nd Battalion, 393rd Infantry Division
- James E. Collins from Kingsport, Tennessee—private first class, Battery B, 183rd Field Artillery Battalion
- Melvin E. Kallio from Oak Ridge, Tennessee—private first class, Headquarters Company, 17th Armored Infantry Battalion, 12th Armored Infantry Division
- Boyd Lewis from Johnson City, Tennessee—private first class, Company H, 142nd Infantry, 36th Infantry Division
The Legion of Honor ceremony will be from 11 a.m. to 12 p.m. October 1 at the Tennessee State Capitol, in the Old Supreme Court Chambers in Nashville.
Kallio was awarded the Bronze Star in an April ceremony in Oak Ridge. That ceremony was organized with help from the Rev. Craig Kallio of St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Oak Ridge (one of Melvin Kallio’s two sons) and U.S. Representative Chuck Fleischmann. It recognized Kallio’s “meritorious achievement in active ground combat against the enemy on 2 February 1945, while serving with Headquarters Company, 17th Armored Infantry Battalion, 12th Armored Division, in support of the Hellcat Division’s drive through the Rhineland.”
“It’s overwhelming, and I just can’t believe it’s happening,” Kallio said when he received that medal, pointing out that he had kissed the ground when he arrived home in the United States.
Kallio, who was in his late teens and early 20s during the war, also received a Good Conduct Medal, American Campaign Medal, Europe-Africa-Middle East Campaign Medal, and a World War II Victory Medal.
“This was a generation that stood up against fascism,” said Fleischmann, a Tennessee Republican whose district includes Oak Ridge. “The men and women of this generation stood up and won. Our country needs to thank all of our vets.”
Kallio’s grandson Eric Kallio, who has received a Bronze Star of his own, pinned the Bronze Star on Melvin.
Eric Kallio, a helicopter pilot in the U.S. Army, received his Bronze Star in Iraq in 2008. He said his Blackhawk took fire that damaged the tail rotor in Basra. The crew was able to finish the mission, repair the helicopter within 24 hours, and fly a mission the next night, Eric Kallio said.
Jules Doux, a military veterans affairs case worker for Fleischmann, said Melvin’s medals were awarded after an inquiry that started with Craig Kallio, who was pursuing a French Legion of Honour. Doux submitted inquiries to the U.S. Department of Army and National Personnel Records Center, and after records and combat history were researched, the request was sent to Fort Knox.
It’s unusual to award a Bronze Star 70 years later, Doux said, but there have been quite a few.
More information will be added as it becomes available.
Copyright 2015 Oak Ridge Today. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.