SOUTH JORDAN — Lyle Ralph Jackson sat with his hands clasped, wearing his best suit, humbly accepting of an honor he earned long ago as a young man trudging through the trenches of war.
The 90-year-old World War II veteran is highly decorated, but each medal reminds him only of the many experiences he had defending France and working for his country, alongside some of his best friends.
The stories and the people he met along his way are what matter most to him.
"Each veteran has something immensely beautiful to tell us, something profoundly inspiring to tell us," Marie-Hélène Glon, France's honorary consulate in Utah and president of the Utah Consular Corps., said Saturday at a ceremony at the Legacy Retirement Residence. "They have not forgotten what they went through and we (the French) will never forget them."
Glon bestowed France's highest honor on Jackson, inducting him into the French Legion of Honor.
The distinction, established by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1802, is the highest decoration bestowed in France and is reserved for individuals who exhibit extreme valor in civil or military service. It is occasionally given to foreign nationals for serving France. American veterans who risked their lives fighting on French territory, specifically in one of the four main campaigns of the liberation of France, qualify for the highest category of the Legion, the Chevalier, or Knight.
"He is a great hero," Glon said of Lyle Jackson, adding her own gratitude for his service to that of her country. "What he has done is stupendous."
She carefully pinned the star-shaped silver medal that hangs on a red ribbon on his left lapel. He glanced down at it and made sure it was straight and then Lyle Jackson stared ahead, with respect.
"He always felt it was important that the French people were respected for all the hard work they did," Mark Jackson said of his father, adding that his father still counts it a blessing to have survived the war when so many others didn't.
He said his dad's character was defined during his service with the 376th Infantry Regiment of the 94th Combat Infantry, as he marched his way through difficult conditions in France, warding off Germans in hedge-rows and house-to-house combat and liberating various towns as he and the other soldiers went along.
Lyle Jackson's personal account includes many near-misses and life-saving miracles, as well as encounters with horrifying situations. He said he has "a special hate, a dislike of war."
"It was terrible," Lyle Jackson said, recalling the not so pleasant memories. But he remembers being steadfast in his duty.
"I was going to do what I had to do," he said.
He loved the people he met along the way and jokes that he "dug an awful lot of holes throughout France."
As a young soldier, Lyle Jackson was drafted into the Army out of high school in 1942. He was honorably discharged and returned home in January 1946 and later graduated from the University of Utah in civil engineering, married Emma Arlene Swanson, who died in 2011. They raised nine children together.
While the experiences of war were some of the most important building blocks of his life, Mark Jackson said his dad didn't talk much about the more serious memories until they were older. In a written account, Lyle Jackson said he "left out all of the blood and gore."
"He's very humble," Mark Jackson said. "He doesn't think that what he did was that big."
Lyle Jackson said he believes the French deserve much of the honor.
"I'm proud that they thought enough to present this to me, but I thought the French people themselves were much more brave and selfless," he said. "They had gone through a terrible time."