At a Nov. 9 ceremony in the Colorado Capitol, the Honorable Jeffery Richards, Esq., honorary consul for the French government, presented five Colorado World War II veterans with the Knight of the Legion of Honor. One of the honorees was Elbert County resident Odell “Jack” Plylar.
Plylar, who turned 94 on Nov. 17, enlisted in the Army at the age of 20, and entered France in the summer of 1944, one month after the D-Day invasion. He fought with the 80th Infantry Division from Normandy to an area just south of Luxembourg.
In addition to its decisive role in the Third Army's historic drive across France, the 80th Division was critical to the relief of the besieged 101st Airborne during the Battle of the Bulge, and its river crossing of the Moselle against heavy German resistance is still taught by the Army War College as a textbook example of an opposed river crossing.
“The 80th Infantry, and millions of GIs like Jack Plylar aren't extraordinary because they are so rare; they're extraordinary because there were so many of them in their heroic achievements. Their valor and sacrifice was at once inspirational and it was everywhere,” said Ric Morgan, Elbert County Veterans Services Officer, who made the application to the Consulate General of France in Los Angeles on behalf of Plylar.
“The French government put out a notice about 24 months ago looking for U.S. veterans who helped liberate the French Republic from the Nazis,” Morgan said. “Jack is an ideal candidate.”
The French government agreed with Morgan's assessment, and Plylar had no idea that he had been nominated for the award until Morgan informed him following the French government's approval of his award.
Plylar was recalled to duty for the Korean War in 1951. He married his wife, Betty, in 1953, and they have two sons. During his service he was decorated several times. His awards include the Bronze Star, the Combat Infantry Badge, and the European Service Medal.
Also honored at the Statehouse ceremony were Angelo Mazzi of the Air Force and Julian Kler, Uwe Graengater and Louis Zoghby of the Army.
The Legion of Honor Medal is the highest honor bestowed by the French government for military or civilian service to France. Established by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1802, the award is conferred in five degrees of increasing distinction Chevalier (Knight), Officier (Officer), Commander (Commander), Grand Officier (Grand Officer), and Grand Croix (Grand Cross).