Illinois World War II vet, 88, awarded French Legion of Honor

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An 88-year-old suburban Chicago man said he was "tickled" to receive France's highest honor for his service in World War II.

But James Butz, of Schaumburg, was humble about the award, saying during a ceremony in Chicago on Friday that thousands of other service members -- American and French -- did what he did.

"I'm not a war hero," Butz said, according to the Chicago Sun-Times. "The heroes are the ones that didn't come back."

French Consul Graham Paul presented Butz with the Legion of Honor medal for his help in liberating France in World War II. It is the country's highest distinction, and is awarded only to those with the most distinguished records, according to the French Consulate. It is not awarded posthumously.

Butz enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1943 and was sent overseas the following year. He fought fought in D-Day, the Battle of the Bulge and the Colmar Pocket.

Butz said the harshest campaign was the Battle of the Bulge.

Troops fought for weeks in subzero temperatures, sleeping outdoors. Butz called it "the worst period of my life" but said he's grateful because the allies turned back the Germans. Butz earned two Bronze Stars for his role in the battle.

"I'd never been so cold, I'd never been so frozen, I'd never felt so completely all alone," he said.

After returning to the United States he married, attended the University of Notre Dame and started a job in Chicago.

His family began working two years ago to document Butz's service so he could be considered for the award. Butz suffers from leukemia and is losing his vision due to macular degeneration. His family was able to get the medal early so they could give it to him at Christmas.

As the French Consulate in Chicago on Friday, Butz's voice cracked as he thanked France for the honor.

"At 88 I'm tickled to be standing up to receive this award," he said.

As part of the ceremony, Butz was inducted as a chevalier, or knight.

He was joined by more than 20 family members, who raised a champagne toast to "Sir Grandpa."