McKelvey Named “Chevalier” – French Legion of Honor
by Loretta Rodgers
Aston Commissioners Present Proclamation to Township Resident James L. McKelvey for Being Named Named “Chevalier” of the French Legion of Honor
Aston Commissioners presented a proclamation to township resident James McKelvey, who was named a “Chevalier” of the Legion of Honor; the highest distinction bestowed on U.S. soldiers who fought at Normandy, Provence/Southern France or Northern France.
McKelvey, 89, was stunned, when in February, he received a letter from the Consul General of France advising him that he had been named a “Chevalier” of the Legion of Honor. At that time, he was invited to join 12 other American World War II veterans for a special ceremony held March 26 at the French Embassy in Washington, DC.
“You have been named a Chevalier of the Legion of Honor as a sign of France’s gratitude for your personal contribution to the liberation of our country in World War II,” wrote Olivier Serot Almeras, consul general of France. “I will be very honored to present you this award in the name of the President of the French Republic. I am looking forward to meeting you and congratulating you.”
McKelvey, his wife of 65 years, Dot, and several nieces and nephews made the trip to Washington DC for the awards ceremony.
“It was a very nice event,” McKelvey said. “I was really honored to be there. We were served delicious French pastries and coffee, which we all enjoyed very much.”
McKelvey was born and raised in Boswell, Pa., located in Somerset County. He was drafted into the U.S. Navy at the age of 19 and served between 1943 and 1945. McKelvey attended boot camp in Sampson, New York and his first assignment was aboard the USS Nitro, an ammunition ship bound for New England. During World War II, McKelvey served as a boatsman aboard the USS Melville and participated in the Normandy Invasion.
“I’ll never forget that day,” said McKelvey. “It was a very bad scene; one that I would never want to see again. The real heroes are the guys who gave their lives. I was one of the fortunate ones who came home, but many did not.”
McKelvey was seriously injured during the battle when a hot shell casing hit his wrist. To this day he has a metal plate in his wrist, serving as a constant reminder of that difficult time.
McKelvey was taken to a field hospital and then transferred to Norfolk, Virginia. He received an honorable medical discharge and traveled home to the Chester area, where, before he was drafted, came seeking work at Sun Ship and Dry Dock Company.
McKelvey and his wife Dot met after the war while she was waitressing at the Trainer Diner owned by her brother. They were married in 1949, resided in Chester, moved to Brookhaven and resided there until they moved to Aston several years ago.
“My husband is a wonderful man and we have had a good life together,” said Dot. “He is a very faithful man of the Lord.”
Due to his disability, when McKelvey arrived home from the war, he had difficulty finding employment. He was eventually hired by a launch service transporting seamen who supervised the seaport for immigration purposes, on the lookout for contraband. He then landed a job at the Texaco refinery, where he worked for many years.
In addition to this newest honor, McKelvey has been awarded two bronze stars, the American Defense Service Medal, Distinguished Service Medal, Asiatic-Pacific Campaign, American Campaign, Middle Eastern Campaign, World War II Victory Medal, and WWII Veterans Medal.
To be awarded the French Medal of Honor, a soldier must be nominated and had risked their life during World War II fighting on French territory. If a nominee meets the required criteria, the file is sent to the Legion of Honor Committee in Paris, via the French Embassy in Washington, DC as well as the French Foreign Affairs ministry. The Legion of Honor Committee approves or rejects the candidate after review of the file.
Those elected are appointed to the rank of Knight of the Legion of Honor. The award is not presented posthumously. Since 1804 there have been 94,807 medals awarded. McKelvey has no idea who nominated him, but said the ceremony is one he will never forget. Another thing, he said, he will never forget, is the day he returned to the United States from overseas.
“I literally kissed the ground,” he said. “And I thanked the Lord for keeping me alive. I was glad to be home.”
The entire Aston Board of Commissioners expressed appreciation to McKelvey, who was given a standing ovation.