PERU — Napoleon “Nap” Light remembers his time overseas in World War II vividly.
The remarkably energetic 90-year-old is able to recall practically every month, year and location of his time in the 30th Infantry Division of the U.S. Army National Guard from 1942 to 1945.
His service earned him a prestigious award from the French Consulate in New York City earlier this month at the French High School of New York.
The President of the French Republic appointed Light and 19 others as Chevalier of the Legion of Honor.
“They were from all over the country and from different branches of the service,” Light said. “This was 68 years ago. That’s a long time. There aren’t too many of us left.”
Although he has received many awards for his military service, many of which decorate the room he renovated in the basement of his Peru home, this one came as a surprise.
“I never expected it,” he said. The letter informing Light of his invitation to the ceremony arrived in September.
Light’s wife, Theresa, reminded him that, although the trip by plane from Burlington to New York would be costly, it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
“She said, ‘Forget it. We only go through here once. Go for it.’”
Keith Herkalo, of Plattsburgh, Light’s nephew, accompanied him on the trip, and his daughter, Lori, flew in from Chicago to attend the ceremony.
The event, which impressed Light, was held in the school’s auditorium.
“After the ceremony, the entire audience stood there and applauded for quite a while,” Light said.
Clearly, they shared in the appreciation for the awardees’ courage and sacrifice that Bertrand Lortholary, consul general of France, described in his invitation letter to Light.
“This prestigious distinction underlines the deep appreciation and gratitude of the French people for your contribution to the liberation of our country during World War II. We will never forget the commitment of American heroes like you to whom France owes so much,” Bertrand wrote.