St. Cloud veteran receives French Legion of Honor medal

U.S. Navy veteran Willis “Bud” McCartney (front left) received the French Legion of Honor Medal during a presentation on Oct. 15 at Orlando City Hall.

The French Legion of Honor presents the award to U.S. veterans in appreciation for their dedication and sacrifice during the liberation of France in World War II. Pictured with McCartney are his wife, Mary, Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer and French Consul General Clement Leclerc.

In June 1944, Willis Boyd “Bud” McCartney was a 19-year-old young man serving on the USS Nevada off the shores of Normandy.

Seventy-four years later the St. Cloud residents was recognized as a Knight of the French Legion of Honor for his participation in the liberation of France in World War II.

On Oct. 15, the Consulate General of France and the American Society of the French Legion of Honor presented 93-year-old McCartney with the French Legion of Honor medal. Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer and the Orlando City Commission hosted the ceremony at Orlando City Hall.

Seaman First Class McCartney

McCartney joined the U.S. Navy in June 1943. He boarded the USS Nevada in Norfolk, Va. The Nevada, which also saw duty in World War I, had already been tested by the enemy forces in the second World War. The ship was docked at Pearl Harbor when the Japanese attacked on the morning of Dec. 7, 1941. On that day, the crew lost 60 men and 109 were wounded. But the ship would not go down. After being under repair for a year, the Nevada was once again ready for battle and took part in the Attu landings against the Japanese in May 1943.

In June 1943, the Nevada headed to Norfolk to pick up new crew, including McCartney, and to prepare for convoy duty across the Atlantic Ocean. The ship departed for Belfast, Ireland, providing protective coverage for ships carrying equipment and supplies for Operation Overlord – the Allied invasion of Normandy.

McCartney was a gunner’s mate in the 3rd Division on the Nevada.

“I remember it all,” he said about being part of the historic D-Day invasion.

The gunners provided cover for the guys on shore and took out the German targets.

 “I loaded the guns, put the ammunition in the 14 guns; I loaded the powder for them. We just got started firing,” he said.

Following Normandy, McCartney went on to serve in South France, Iwo Jima and Okinawa. At Okinawa, the ship was hit by an enemy aircraft and 11 men were killed, but the crew continued to provide coverage for the ground troops.

In a book about the USS Nevada, McCartney pointed out a photo of him and his fellow crewmen celebrating the end of the war.

 “That was a happy time,” he said.

After he returned home in February 1946, one of his first priorities was to find his girl, Mary. They had known each other in school, but McCartney said Mary didn’t like him so much then. He always remembered her though.

 “I got to thinking: I kind of liked the Navy, but if I stay in the Navy, somebody might get her, and I might want her,” McCartney said.

He returned home to Pennsylvania and they went to a movie and got married in May.

“It was a long engagement,” he said with a laugh.

The McCartneys have been married for 72 years and have four children. After the war, McCartney went back working in construction, which he had done before the war. The family moved to St. Cloud in 1968, where Bud and Mary still live.

For his service in World War II, McCartney received the Victory Medal, the American Campaign Medal, the European African Middle Eastern Service Medal with two stars and the Asiatic Pacific Medal with three stars.

Napoleon Bonaparte established the French Legion of Honor in 1802, and it is France’s highest distinction, recognizing exceptional service to France in various fields. On the 60th anniversary of the Normandy landings, France decided to grant the Legion of Honor to all the U.S. veterans who fought on French soil, many of whom gave their lives in the name of freedom. To receive the medal, veterans must have fought in one of the four main campaigns of the Liberation of France: Normandy, Provence, Ardennes, or Northern France.