Seventy-two years after Jesse Whitley of Mabelvale joined other members of the 474th Infantry to aid in the liberation of Norway at the end of World War II, the government of Norway sent its gratitude.
U.S. Rep. French Hill, R-Ark., presented Whitley, 97, with the Norwegian Defense Medal and Commemorative Medal, along with a citation, on Friday afternoon for his contribution to Norway’s achieving its freedom from German occupation.
The brief ceremony was held in the Old Supreme Court Chamber at the state Capitol in Little Rock.
Whitley is one of the last surviving members of the 474th Infantry, which took part in the liberation in 1945, Hill said. Whitley served in five different campaigns, including in France and Germany. His unit was depicted in the 1968 movie The Devil’s Brigade, which starred William Holden and Cliff Robertson.
“It’s always a treat anytime you get to honor one of the Greatest Generation,” Hill said before presenting the medals to Whitley, who put on his uniform cap and jacket to accept them.
“It’s an exciting thing when you meet a man who wore the uniform who can still wear it,” Hill joked. “That’s a good fit. He is prepared to do 100 push-ups.”
Whitley came to Hill’s attention last year. He contacted the congressman’s office seeking help because the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs had stopped his monthly pension of about $1,500 without notice several months before, said David Carnahan, district representative for Hill’s office.
Hill and his staff were able to quickly resolve the problem, which involved a clerical error by the VA. Whitley had been confused with a Jessie Whitley of Durham, N.C., who had defaulted on a loan.
After Hill and his staff intervened, the VA sent Jesse Whitley $5,392 on Aug. 23, according to an Arkansas Democrat-Gazette article Sept. 18. The VA, however, sent Whitley another letter Sept. 7 instructing him to begin paying on the 20-year-old loan that was the basis for the original confusion. The VA then contacted Whitley directly and apologized.
“Congressman Hill is one of those who is more willing to do what they can to help veterans,” Whitley said after Friday’s ceremony.
The Defense Medal 1940-1945 (Deltagermedaljen in Norwegian) is an award to military and civilian personnel who participated in the fight against the German invasion and occupation of Norway from 1940-45. It can be awarded to both Norwegian and foreign citizens.
The Commemorative Medal is awarded by the Norwegian government to military and civilian personnel to thank them for their contributions to Norway during World War II. The medal reads Norge Takker Deg For Innsatsen, or “Thank You for Your Service.”
The medals were described in a letter signed by Maj. Gen. Finn Kristian Hannestad, defense attache of the Norwegian Embassy in Washington, D.C.
The letter states, in part: “You have all participated in the liberation of Norway. Norway thanks you for your invaluable contributions to the struggle for Freedom.”