Lauderdale County, Miss. The French Legion of Honor is France's highest award. The Rev. Edsol Wells of Lauderdale, Miss., is one of only eleven in the state to receive the distinction in a ceremony Tuesday in Jackson.
The award will be presented by the Consul General of France based in Atlanta for Wells' role in liberating that nation from the Nazis.
Wells visited with Newscenter 11 in advance of achieving this recognition nearly seven decades after his tour of military duty in France.
"I really don't deserve this award," Wells said. "I don't feel like it, because 300,000 of our bomb group died as young people."
The 89-year old Wells is reflective about his years of service in World War II. It was 1945 and Wells was an Air Force flight engineer in a bombing squadron.
"We never did drop bombs on personnel," said Wells. "We knocked out gun emplacements and railyards and factories, but no residential sections."
Wells says it was a tough time in his life and he found strength through his faith, but never knew if he would return.
"We always came back with holes in the plane. Hundreds of holes sometimes," he said. "Of course, when our hydraulic system was knocked out and we had an engine fire, this was a time of great danger. We did a lot of praying. Every time we went on a mission, there was a danger that we would not return. They were always shooting at us, always trying to destroy us, and a lot of our fellows never did return."
But Wells did return and attended college and seminary and has been a Baptist pastor for forty years. He married his sweetheart, Gilda, more than 67 years ago and raised a family.
The French Legion of Honor was first established by Napoleon in 1802. The Order is the highest decoration in France and is divided into five degrees: Chevalier (Knight), Officier (Officer), Commandeur (Commander), Grand Officier (Grand Officer) and Grand Croix (Grand Cross).
Chevalier is the degree that Wells will receive.
Wells will be part of an elite group, but he says it's bittersweet to accept it on behalf of other veterans who didn't return.
"We just never know how sad war is, how terrible it is, not just for those soldiers, but also for civilians," said Wells. "So, so sad."
Rev. Wells will receive the Knight of the French Legion of Honor distinction with ten other World War II veterans Tuesday at the Old Capitol Building in Jackson.