PEKIN, Ill. (WMBD) — A 98-year-old Pekin native who served in World War II, helping liberate France from German occupation, was recognized with the French Legion of Honor today at Preston-Hanley funeral home.

Dean A. Preston was a Corporal in the Air Force who served as a radio operator and repairman, helping with communications across the front lines. He served in North Africa, Italy, Germany, and France during the war.

Preston didn’t want to have that duty initially, however.

“I volunteered to be in the Air Force, I thought I’d go someplace in the Air Force, but I guess they wanted me for radio maintenance so they sent me to school and there was 26 of us, we all ended in the same place, overseas,” he said.

A large crowd gathered to see the ceremony, which included veterans, citizens and French and American officials.

Preston was given the award by French Consul General to the Midwest Yannick Tagand, who said that ceremonies like the one today shows the strong alliance between France and the United States.

“It’s always meaningful for us to be within the community to honor the veterans because it’s also a message for the coming generations about the balance between France and the U.S., and about the values we have in common, so it was a very nice ceremony,” Tagand said.

Tagand said that over the past 25 years, France has bestowed around 2,000 medals to American soldiers who helped liberate France from German occupation. He believes it’s necessary to honor these veterans.

“What we aim at is to recognize all the U.S. veterans who made it to France, who fought in France, because what they have done is so important for us historically, but it’s also very inspiring for new generations,” Tagand said.

The French Legion of Honor was founded in 1802 by Napoleon Bonaparte, and it recognizes eminent service to the French Republic. Preston turns 99 years old in November.