At the French Consulate high above Chicago, Schaumburg resident Jim Butz on Friday received the greatest honor the European nation can bestow for his service in World War II.
French Consul Graham Paul pinned the rare Legion of Honor medal on the lapel of the 88-year-old veteran of D-Day and the Battle of the Bulge. Paul said Butz's receiving of the medal also honored all those American soldiers who made great personal sacrifices for his nation and the world.
"More than 65 years ago, they gave their youth to France and the French people," Paul said on the 37th floor of Illinois Center. "Many did not return but they are in our hearts. And fortunately, Mr. Butz, you are among us to help us remember."
Butz expressed his own deep gratitude to the president, ambassador and consul of France.
"You people do me great honor," he said, his voice cracking with emotion. "We have been allies, as you say, for 200 years."
Butz said the debt of gratitude between France and the United States is far from one-sided, as France fought with the U.S. against Britain in the Revolutionary War.
"When one or the other is in dire straits, the other comes to their aid," Butz said.
Surrounded by more than 20 family members, Butz was honored by a champagne toast for "Sir Grandpa."
"It's the most impressive award I have ever received," Butz said. "What I did is only what thousands of others, American and French, did."
Only a limited number of inductees into the Legion of Honor are permitted each year, and the medal cannot be awarded posthumously.
Though strong in appearance, Butz has been fighting leukemia for eight years, is gradually losing his vision and undergoes regular kidney dialysis.
"It hasn't been particularly easy, but at 88 I'm tickled to be standing up to receive this award," the veteran said.
Butz's daughter, Kathy Herman of Streamwood, said detailed military records were required to demonstrate the role her father played in the war.
"My brother Jim is the one who started this about two years ago," Herman said. "We were just blown away to find out all that was required. (My father has) been looking forward to this ever since we told him at Christmastime."
Butz's son Terry, who is his caregiver at home, said his father was getting nervous about the ceremony in recent weeks as he endeavored to research more about the Legion of Honor and the long friendship between France and the U.S. for the speech he wanted to make.
"He was getting antsy," Terry Butz said.
Though now a knight of France, Butz also felt he had to pay honor to his equally proud status as a University of Notre Dame alumnus.
"Don't forget, I'm still a Fighting Irishman!" he said.
But he added that the French origin of Notre Dame connects his two proudest accomplishments.