BEMIDJI - After being presented the Legion of Honor on Tuesday, James Walker of Bemidji struggled to put into words how grateful he felt to have survived one of the deadliest conflicts in human history, and for the support of his loved ones.

Instead, Walker looked out at the Beltrami County boardroom, packed with generations of friends and relatives, and said simply, “Thank you, thank you, thank you.”

The French government conferred the rank of Chevalier (Knight) of the Legion Of Honor upon Walker, thereby awarding him the highest honor France can bestow on a non-citizen.

Walker joined the thousands of other Americans who have been presented the award for their part in the liberation of France during World War II, including John O’Boyle of Bemidji, who was awarded the honor in 2013.

Walker not only took part in one of the fiercest battles in France during the war, but spent nine months surviving bleak conditions in a German POW camp following his capture by the Nazis.

Tuesday’s ceremony featured a photograph taken about two months after that, in Detroit Lakes. The photo depicts Walker and his future wife of 68 years, Ethel, on their first date. Ethel sat in the front row Tuesday as her husband spoke of how lucky he had been.

“I’ve had a great life, I’ve got a great family,” he said. “I thank the Lord for that.”