WARRENSBURG — World War II Army veteran King Henry Roberson Sr. received the highest honor France awards Friday morning at a ceremony in the chapel at the Missouri Veterans Home in Warrensburg.
During World War II, Roberson was selected to serve in the invasion of Normandy Beach in France. He arrived on day two. On Friday, Consul General of France Vincent Floreani, based in Chicago, spoke at a special ceremony and bestowed the French Legion of Honor Medal on Roberson.
Helping to make the honor possible was Mike Hutchko, who has been an ombudsman at the Veterans Home for more than seven years. Hutchko, also the Johnson County Missouri Veterans History Project Area Site coordinator, heard about the French Legion of Honor and wanted to do something to recognize his friend’s World War II service in France.
“I got to searching a little bit on the Internet and in the process I found a link that struck my interest,” he said. “… I found out France was doing this for World War I and World War II vets. So I put the application in for him.”
Hutchko said at first Roberson was rejected because his military records had perished in a fire at the military storage center in St. Louis. He spoke with France again and they researched Roberson and eventually approved the award.
“I’ve been corresponding by email with the Chicago Consul since April of last year,” he said.
Hutchko said he was pleased Roberson was receiving the honor, especially since his health was declining and also since he’d recently lost his wife Lyree and his oldest son.
Latisha Koetting, director of volunteer services at the home, said Roberson was one of the few World War II veterans at the center.
“He was a D-Day, day two,” she said. “He’s one of the few veterans at the home that was part of Normandy.”
Koetting said she’d noticed Roberson responded well to young people. That helped in her decision to ask Smith-Cotton High School JROTC members to present the colors at the ceremony.
“One thing I’ve noticed with King, is when you have youth, and that interaction, he comes to life,” she added. “He responds and he likes telling them about the older days and how things were.”
During the ceremony, Hutchko presented the invocation and greeted a standing-room-only crowd.
“We are here today to witness the induction of King Henry Roberson Sr. into knighthood in the Legion of France,” he said.
He also introduced Floreani, who recognized Roberson and America soldiers “who were leading the second fight for their lives, for France and Western Europe during the second World War.”
“On June 6, 1944, they fought bravely across France, and witnessed the worst of the war,” Floreani added. “Many did not return but they are in our hearts …
“Twice in the last century, in 1917 and in 1944, American soldiers restored freedom to my country. France and the French people will never forget … from Lafayette and the battlefields of World War I and the shores of Normandy, our two countries have always stood shoulder-to-shoulder to defend and promote the values of freedom and democracy.”
Floreani added that the D-Day landing changed the course of history.
“The American veterans are heroes,” he said.
He thanked all veterans and commended Pfc. Roberson for his bravery.
“Mr. Roberson, from the bottom of my heart, thank you,” Floreani added.
Valerie Greene, of Kansas City, Roberson’s youngest daughter, spoke on his behalf after he received his medal.
“We, the family of King Roberson Sr., would like to thank the French government, Consul General and the Missouri Senate and House of Representatives for honoring our dad on this great day,” Greene said. “We appreciate everything everyone has done in order to make this day so great.”
Greene also thanked Hutchko and the Veterans Home staff.
During the ceremony, state Rep. Denny Hoskins (R-Warrensburg) and state Rep. Dean Dohrman (R-La Monte) presented Roberson with framed courtesy resolutions from both the Missouri House of Representatives and Senate.
A soft-spoken man, now 92, Roberson said quietly said after the ceremony, “It meant a lot to me. I’ve never had a day like this before.
“It feels good,” he added.
About 30 of Roberson’s relatives attended the ceremony traveling from Kansas City, Texas and California.
“This is awesome,” Roberson’s daughter, Lisa Roberson-Jamerson, of Kansas City, told the Democrat. “I’m so excited and delighted for my father. I’m just glad he’s still alive. My mom passed two years ago, so I know she’s happy too.”
“This is a great day,” Greene added. “We’re proud of our dad. He’s a hard worker and he’s always put God and family first. We are just so proud of our dad today.”
“Long live the king,” Roberson’s 72-year-old nephew J.R Roberson, of California, said while talking to him quietly. “Remember, once a king, always a king.”
Roberson said he was going to give his medal and framed resolutions to a family member to take home as a keepsake.
Faith Bemiss can be reached at 530-0289 or @flbemiss.