Better Late Than Never for a Medal

From Associated Press

Nevada's oldest veteran, never before recognized for his service in World War I, was honored with a medal from the French government.

It was a milestone day for William Brown, who was celebrating his 107th birthday. He was awarded the Legion of Honor by the French government at a ceremony at an American Legion Post here.

So segregated was the U.S. Army in the early 20th century that Pvt. Brown and other black soldiers in the expeditionary force were assigned to French units upon their arrival in France on June 14, 1918.

But Brown, the grandson of slaves, would never let bigotry or ignorance dull his love for all people.

"In my life I never cared about a person's nationality, the color of their skin or anything else because we are all God's people," Brown said.

"I grew up in the country, and we all lived the same: poor. We were all working people. There was no rich people anywhere that I knew."

Brown's contributions to the war effort were overlooked by his own government. In 1998 the French government also overlooked Brown on the 80th anniversary of the armistice, when it awarded the Legion of Honor--its highest national award--to 900 American veterans of World War I who fought on French soil.

"I never cared for war. I have always been a man of peace," said Brown, who was born in 1894 in a log cabin in Cuero, Texas. "I was drafted and couldn't wait until I got out. I was lucky to get out without being wounded. My brother [Johnny] was gassed and caught a little shrapnel."

Brown's family and the Veterans of Foreign Wars contacted the office of Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-Nev.) to help with the paperwork.

"We found out he was in fact entitled to the award," Berkley said. "We decided to give him it on his birthday."

On Wednesday, the day before his birthday, Brown had another thrill when he met former President Clinton, his favorite president next to Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Clinton was in town to attend a $10,000-a-plate fund-raiser for the Democratic National Committee and to speak at a convention of sales representatives from the Miki Group, a Japanese company that manufactures vitamins and a nutritional supplement.

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