Paul Kemmerer was born in Lehighton on Nov. 14, 1924, a son of Katherine and Edward Kemmerer. He grew up in the borough, and, like most young men of his generation, enlisted in the U.S. Army in April, 1943. He was all of 19 years old.
From there, life changed fast.
A Private First Class, Company G, with the 508th Parachute Infantry, Kemmerer soon found himself in the thick of battle during the liberation of Normandy. It was the wee hours of June 6, 1944 D-Day when he jumped out of a war plane, one of about 13,000 paratroopers to drop from the skies in the pitch black onto the beaches of France.
"They scattered us all over France," Kemmerer said. "We landed in about 10 foot of water. We lost a lot of boys."
Kemmerer recalls an especially terrifying time dodging bullets.
"One guy was down by a farmhouse, shooting at us. I kept slipping away to either side so he couldn't hit me," he said.
Kemmerer was seriously wounded twice: On June 28, and again on Christmas Day while fighting the Battle of the Bulge. After mustering out of the service, Kemmerer started working with his brother, George, who had a coal distribution business in Hammonton, New Jersey. He married his sweetheart, Margaret. Life ambled along, and Kemmerer eventually moved to Port Richey, Florida, to enjoy the sunshine and warm weather.
Then, in November, he received a letter from the French Embassy in Washington, D.C.: Kemmerer, now 88, was to receive the French Legion of Honor award.
"I am pleased to inform you that by decree of President Hollande on October 1, 2012, you have been appointed a 'Chevalier' (knight) of the Legion of Honor," Francois Delattre of the french Embassy wrote to Kemmerer on Nov. 7.
"This award testifies to President Hollande's high esteem for your merits and accomplishments. In particular, it is a sign of France's infinite gratitude and appreciation for your personal and precious contribution to the United States' decisive role in the liberation of our country during World War II," Delattre wrote.
The honor of Knight of the Legion of Honor may be given to U.S. veterans who risked their lives during World War II to fight on French territory. The veterans must have fought in one of the main campaigns of the Liberation of France: Normandy, Province, or Northern France.
Originally given only to military veterans, the award in 1963 was expanded to include those who made outstanding contributions in various disciplines in civil life, including the arts, entrepreneurs, high-level civil servants, sports champions, and filmmakers.
Kemmerer is in good company. The award also has been earned over the decades by Americans Miles Davis, Walt Disney, Thomas A. Edison, Alexander Graham Bell, General Douglas MacArthur, astronomer Simon Newcomb, former President Dwight D. Eisenhower, and former Secretary of State Colin Powell.
The award was presented to Kemmerer and several others on Jan. 28 by Consul General Gael de Maisonneuve and Admiral Patrick Martin in a ceremony at McDill Military base, Tampa, Florida.
"That felt real proud to get that. It took a long time." Kemmerer said.
The ceremony program described the reasons for the honor.
"Mr. Kemmerer has distinguished himself by his determination and courage, participating in the Battle of the Rhineland, the Battle of the Bulge and the Liberation of Normandy. For his outstanding achievements, the American government presented him with the World War II Victory Medal, the European African Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with four Bronze Service Stars and One Bronze Arrowhead, and the Purple Heart with One Oak Leaf Cluster."
The TIMES NEWS learned of Kemmerer's honor from his longtime friend, Thomas Harvat, of Phillipsburg, New Jersey.