WWII vet from Mississippi given French Legion of Honor

By The Associated Press

HATTIESBURG — A World War II Navy veteran from Mississippi has been presented the French Legion of Honor.

Oscar Russell of Biloxi was given the honor Wednesday at Camp Shelby. The Hattiesburg American reports representatives of the French government presented him the award.

About 75 friends and relatives attended the event at the base near Hattiesburg.

Keltoum Rowland, the French honorary consul in Mississippi, stressed France’s debt to U.S. soldiers during a speech at the ceremony. She said she has been amazed at the humility of the soldiers like Russell who have been presented the Legion of Honor during her time as honorary consul.

“It was young men like yourself who liberated France from the greatest evil of the 20th century,” she said to Russell. “Thank God for brave young men such as yourself.”

Russell, a gunner’s mate 2nd class, was in the first wave of landing crafts to hit Omaha Beach, Normandy, on D-Day, June 6, 1944. He was 21 years old.

The Germans had a machine gun in a chapel and were mowing down the men around him. He watched as more than 50 men in the Higgins Landing Craft next to his were killed, according to a Camp Shelby news release.

Russell made it to the beach and stayed there for 28 days, giving aid and removing bodies. After returning to Mississippi, Russell stayed in the Navy Reserves, got married and had two children. He became a teacher and minister.

The Legion of Honor recognizes contributions and acts of bravery of American service members during the liberation of France, the news release said.