VALDOSTA, GA (WALB) - Each month, WALB and Montlick and Associates spotlight an active duty man or woman, a veteran, or a fallen hero whose service for our country goes beyond the battleground.
This month, we honor former U.S. Army Cpl. George Aigen.
The South Georgia resident is the newest recipient of the French Legion of Honor, which is the highest military or civilian decoration awarded in France.
Consul General of France, Louis de Corail, went to the Dasher Heart Center at South Georgia Regional Medical Center in Valdosta to bestow the honor upon Aigen, on April 11.
“Unfortunately, some of them pass away before we are able to thank them again," the Consul General explained.
Aigen served in the U.S. Army during World War II.
“It was brutal," his daughter, Judy Hathcock said of his time overseas. "The stories are nightmares. They’re horrific.”
For decades, Aigen kept those stories from the war to himself. But, he had a change of heart around a decade ago.
“He realized he had a duty and obligation to all of the lives that were lost and all the people that fought in that war, and to future generations," Hathcock said.
Since then, he has shared those stories with students, teachers and community members in the Valdosta area almost 100 times.
Those stories include spending more than 180 straight days in the combat zone, during 1944 and 1945 and being one of the first 30 U.S. troops to liberate thousands of starving Jewish people from the Dachau concentration camp in Germany.
France aims to say thank you to American veterans who fought on French soil during World War II, putting their lives at risk for that country’s freedom.
“For American veterans, it is an amazing honor for us, to be able to recognize them and what they did on French territory to liberate France and Europe," said de Corail.
De Corail pinned the Legion of Honor on Aigen’s jacket as his loved ones, current military members and even strangers looked on.
“He was just so honored, and humbled,” Hathcock said. “I think it just made him feel 10 years younger.”
At the time of the ceremony, Aigen was recovering at the Dasher Heart Center from a hip surgery that led to a few complications.
That made the medal even more special to him and his family.
With another salute, Aigen thanked the dozens of people who gathered to celebrate his bravery.
“It was really about all the people that were here to just show their love and support, and that’s really to me, as important as his medal or more,” Hathcock explained. “I wanted him to take that in.”
Hathcock said there are multiple things in the works to honor her father, including a documentary, a play and a book about his life.
If you know a special military hero you want to nominate, click here.