For much of a lifetime Chester Hoeft went quietly about his business.
His parents immigrated from Germany and settled on a farm just north of Princeton.
That’s where Chester was raised. Now 91 years old, there has never been a day that Chester hasn’t considered the farm home.
He worked the farm as a boy and through his school years as a teenager. He graduated second in his class at Princeton High School back in 1943.
He enlisted in the U.S. Army and after the war, he returned home to the farm. He worked the farm on which his parents settled as long as he was physically able. Age took its toll on Chester, who later moved to the Caley House assisted-living facility. He moved on to the Elim Home where he resides today.
Chester is a proud veteran and was honored to serve his country in World War II.
At a Veterans Day program earlier this year at North Elementary School, VFW Quartermaster Jim Dalziel pointed out that veterans are normal people. Those veterans are people like their grandparents, people they meet on the street each day – or people who reside in the Elim Home. He also reminded the students that veterans are heroes – heroes like Chester Hoeft.
In another time, in another place, Chester Hoeft was making history on the battlefields of World War II.
Chester is regarded as a hero in America for serving his country.
He is also regarded as a hero in France for the role he played in liberating that country during World War II.
On November 9, Chester was appointed a Chevalier of the French Legion of Honor for his extraordinary bravery in liberating France during World War II.
A chevalier is France’s equivalent of being knighted in England. It’s an honor and class of nobility first created by Napoleon in 1802.
A November 30 letter to Hoeft from the French Embassy in Washington, D.C., states that French President Francois Hollande has high esteem for Hoeft’s merits and accomplishments. France has infinite gratitude and appreciation for the person and precious contribution Hoeft made to the United State’s decisive role in the liberation of France during World War II, the letter states.
The Legion of Honor, according to the office of the Consulate General of France in Chicago, is the highest distinction that France bestows upon someone who has performed a remarkable deed for France.
What’s interesting about the honor is the fact that Chester wasn’t an officer of a military branch upon whom such honors are bestowed.
He was an uncommissioned soldier. By earning the French Legion of Honor, Chester is representing thousands of soldiers, like many of your fathers, grandfathers and great-grandfathers who were dutiful soldiers, who would say they were doing nothing more than serving their country.
Chester enlisted in the Army in February 1943, as a technician in the 3112 Signal Service Battalion.
From May 1944 to November 1945, he took part in battles at Normandy, the Ardennes, Rhineland, Central Europe and Northern France.
Chester might argue that he was nothing more than a loyal soldier in the U.S. Army.
But France has recognized Hoeft as much more than that.
François Delattre, the Ambassador of the French Republic to the United States, wrote in a November 30 letter to Hoeft, “The French people will never forget your courage and your devotion to the great cause of freedom.”
Let us also take this moment to remember Chester Hoeft and the thousands of dutiful soldiers just like him and pledge to never forget the courage and devotion they showed for our own freedoms, too.
Jeff Hage is the editor of the Princeton Union-Eagle. Reach him by e-mail at email@example.com.