WWII veterans awarded French Legion d’Honneur Medal

World War II Vet William “Dean” Whitaker receives the French Legion d’Honneur medal. (Courtesy photograph)

World War II Veterans William “Dean” Whitaker and William Grant received the French Legion d’Honneur award in a ceremony in Las Vegas on Oct. 5, 2019.

The Legion d’Honneur is France’s highest award, conferred upon men and women for outstanding achievements in military or civilian life.

The two Veterans, both 94-years old, celebrated with friends, family and distinguished guests including Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak at the National Atomic Testing Museum. Grant and Whitaker were also honored with certificates from Sisolak, the Nevada Department of Veteran Services and representatives from Nevada’s Congressional delegation.

The Legion d’Honneur award was presented by Sebastien Thevenin, the French Honorary Consul for Southern Nevada.

“These two men are examples of the Greatest Generation,” Thevenin said. “They are an unbreakable link in the long chain of friendship between our two countries that will remain forever in our hearts.”

Both veterans, who receive care from VA Southern Nevada Healthcare System, spoke about remembering those who lost their lives in World War II and the importance of educating younger generations about the impact of the conflict.

Second Lt. William “Dean” Whitaker, born in Los Angeles, enlisted as a bombardier in the U.S. Army Air Corps in 1943. Whitaker flew 20 missions over Europe in a B-17 Flying Fortress. He earned a Purple Heart for injuries sustained on his first mission, and his 20th and final mission ended when his plane was shot down over Merseburg, Germany. Whitaker was taken prisoner and survived seven months in a P.O.W. camp before liberation by Gen. Patton’s forces in 1945. Following the war, Whitaker returned to California where he worked as a school teacher, a firefighter, and an architect, building homes throughout Laguna Beach. He moved to Las Vegas, Nev., soon after retirement, where he now resides.

Private First-Class William Grant joined the Army as an infantryman from his hometown of Pittsburgh, Penn., in September 1943. He landed on Normandy on July 13, 1944 and participated in the liberation of France; seeing action in the Battle of Falaise Gap and Monschau. He was wounded by an artillery barrage at the Battle of Hurtgen Forest, for which he would receive the Purple Heart. Grant would go on to fight in the Battle of the Bulge and finished his tour of duty with a European Campaign Medal with Five Bronze Service Stars. After the war, he worked for the Social Security Administration for 35 years, after which he retired and moved to Las Vegas.