TOPEKA — The coldest winter Medford H. Shively said he ever saw was in 1944, just after landing at Marseilles, France, during World War II.
"We were pretty well surrounded by Germans," Shively recalled during a ceremony held in his honor Wednesday night at American Legion Post 400 in North Topeka. "We had to bring in (air support) to relieve us. That's how bad off we were — but we didn't know it."
Shively, who fought in the Rhineland and Central Europe with the U.S. Army's 42nd Infantry Division, was bestowed with the French Legion of Honor Medal during the ceremony. Nearly 100 people attended the event, including Maj. Gen. Tod Bunting, the adjutant general of Kansas, who presented Shively with the medal on behalf of the consulate general of France.
Created by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1802 to acknowledge services rendered to France by people of great merit, the Legion of Honor carries the same prestige among military personnel as the U.S. Silver Star, said James Steele, American Legion post commander.
"It's very humbling to meet a man of that caliber and what he has been through," Steele said. "To speak with a World War II veteran is very humbling, especially a combat vet."
A native of Elwood, Ind., Shively enlisted in the Army on Dec. 15, 1942. He served in France until March 19, 1945. After the war, Shively was assigned to the Vienna Area Command as a clerk general in the 17th District — a post he recalled as the most rewarding experience with the Army after the war. He received an honorable discharge on April 13, 1946.
Shively, who holds a master's degree in business administration and a doctorate, moved to Topeka in 1978 and retired from the Kansas Neurological Institute in 1989.
In August 2010, he was notified he had been named by the French Republic as a Chevalier of the Legion of Honor.
Shively said the announcement was a bit of a shock.
"It was an experience," Shively said of his WWII experience. "I'm glad I had it, but I'm glad I came back.
"I think about the soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq and the dangers they face on the road with bombs — they never know what they are going to face either, so I'm grateful to them."