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World War II veteran receives France’s highest honor

The French Legion D’Honneur (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Ned T. Johnston)

Army veteran Stanley Kekule landed at Utah Beach on D-Day, saved lives throughout France and Belgium during World War II and was awarded for his service earlier this month.

Kekule, 99, of Marysville, was one of three American soldiers who received France’s highest honor – the Knight in the National Order of the Legion of Honour.

“I didn’t want to accept the honor because I wasn’t maimed or seriously injured, nor did I make the supreme sacrifice – I didn’t think I was worthy,” he said. “My son, Richard, persisted that I accept it.”

His son, an Army veteran who served in Vietnam, helped get his father recognition for his service in WWII and Kekule said it was a long process.

“It took about a year because they had to get military records from me and check them against the records from Washington D.C.,” he said. “Then, a committee had to decide on the award.”

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The July 11 celebration took place at the Residence of France and was overseen by the French Consul General in San Francisco, Emmanuel Lebrun Damiens, who timed the event with the French National Day also known as Bastille Day, a celebration of freedom and democracy.

During the first few months after D-Day, Kekule helped set up a hospital and was part of a team that treated 7,718 patients, mostly surgical cases.

“We were there about five months and then moved to Belgium and set up a 2,000-bed hospital,” he said. “We admitted about 27,000 patients mostly from the Battle of the Bulge but we were ready to evacuate at a moment’s notice because we were so close.”

Kekule was assigned to operating theaters assisting surgeons as they worked on patients and after the war, he wanted to become a physician.

“After the war, I went to college at San Fransisco State University to study medicine for about a year,” he said. “I met my wife, Natalie and that changed everything.”

He said the retirement plan was better if he continued to serve in the Army, which he did for 20 years.

“I was in Korea with the Army as well but it was years before the war – I worked at a large general hospital,” he said. “Later, I worked at Letterman Army Hospital in the San Fransisco Presidio for about 10 years.”

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Kekule, who was born in Sacramento, retired as Master Sargent from Camp Beale and moved back to San Fransisco.

“I ran a 24-hour answering service in San Fransisco after the military,” he said. “I retired in 1990 and lived there for awhile before moving up to Marysville.”

His wife of 50 years died in 2004 and he has six children and five grandchildren.

Kekule, an avid piano player, also cares for the grotto garden at Saint Joseph Catholic Church and looks forward to celebrating his 100th birthday on Oct. 12.

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© 2019 the Appeal-Democrat