When the French diplomat pinned the insignia of France’s highest military service decoration on his chest Saturday, John Gojmerac didn’t mince words about the recognition, or the brutal combat he endured in Italy, France and Germany

“I’m not accepting it for myself, but for the men that didn’t make it,” said the 99-year-old World War II veteran, according to an Army news release.

The ceremony took place in Tonawanda, New York, at the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post #7575.

Gojmerac, an immigrant from the former Yugoslavia, was drafted when he turned 18 and trained as an infantryman. As a member of the division’s 7th Infantry Regiment, Gojmerac was wounded in Italy during the early 1944 Anzio landing campaign, then again in 1945 while preparing to cross the Rhine River near Strasbourg, France.

While a private first class, Gojmerac earned a Silver Star in November 1944. According to the Army release, the former infantryman (then turned signal repairer) received the award for fixing a telephone line multiple times under fire during a German attack. Gojmerac even captured an enemy soldier on his final repair.

Gojmerac ultimately left the Army as a technician fifth grade in 1945. After his service, he worked in the General Motors plant in Tonawanda, a suburb of Buffalo.

During Saturday’s ceremony, two of the veteran’s children and his granddaughter, Angelica Conway, spoke about his legacy. Conway also passed on remarks from her brother Eric, who today lives in France and submitted Gojmerac for the Legion of Honor. The award carries great cultural significance in France, and a museum dedicated to its members lies in the heart of Paris astride the Seine River.

Conway read a letter from her brother, who described how he “often” passes the museum, which includes “many of Napoleon’s best soldiers.”

“It’s a true honor to know that my grandfather is now one of them,” she read.

Davis Winkie covers the Army for Military Times. He studied history at Vanderbilt and UNC-Chapel Hill, and served five years in the Army Guard. His investigations earned the Society of Professional Journalists' 2023 Sunshine Award and consecutive Military Reporters and Editors honors, among others. Davis was also a 2022 Livingston Awards finalist.

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