CENTERVILLE – A World War II veteran is recognized on a global scale for something he did nearly three quarters of a century ago. Richard Southern was one of the first allied soldiers on Omaha beach for D-Day in 1944. Today, he got the French Legion of Honor award.
An Iowan is getting the highest honor in all of France. This is very rare, it’s only happened four times in the history of Iowa. Interestingly, though, it has happened in Centerville twice in the last year.
“It is a very humbling experience to meet a person like Mr. Richard Southern,” said Consul General of France Guillame LaCroix.
Richard Southern had been in the Army for one year when he and his fellow Allies touched down on Omaha Beach.
“When the ramp went down, I just stepped off of that and went down into that, waist deep in the water and I blocked everything else out,” he said. “I don’t remember seeing anything except the beach.”
On Tuesday, before fellow veterans and first responders, Richard added his latest, and perhaps greatest, achievement to his collection.
“It’s just awesome to think about the things those people went through. I’ve talked to Richard a lot about all of his experiences, and he’s really down to earth about it,” said retired U.S. Army veteran Tony Siebart.
“It’s great to see the community coming together for this, and honor Richard in this way, and it just means a lot that he’s a member of our post,” said retired U.S. Army veteran Shawn Jensen.
After running through the harrowing details of D-Day, France’s Consul General also thanked Richard for all he did. “It did not take long for President Macron to celebrate the decision for Mr. Southern.”
“We know these guys who came to save us because they are in our history books but to receive the privilege to get to see someone still living, but also to honor him,” says LaCroix.
“I don’t know. I’ve been thinking about this for the last day or two,” said Southern. “I can’t believe this me, getting this award.”
While Richard says he was just following orders, everyone in the community knows his bravery will resonate in their hearts forever. “It’s just awesome, it’s unbelievable. It brings tears to your eyes,” said Siebert.
“I know they appreciate it, and I appreciate them giving these honors,” said Southern.
Though only four Iowans have gotten this distinctive honor, the Iowa Department of Veterans Affairs is working to see if some more veterans from around the state will be eligible too.