Boulder City has connections with many celebrities and many cities. On the tourism front such attractions as Hoover Dam and the Boulder Dam Hotel draw many visitors. Popular motion pictures have been filmed here. President Franklin Roosevelt once passed through town and gave a speech. Parades and fairs and festivals are held in its parks throughout the year. But more recently, Boulder City made a patriotic connection with the people of France thousands of miles away. And it all developed due to the bravery and military service of two veterans, who, until recently, resided at the local veterans home.
For several years France has seen fit to present awards to American veterans who participated in the liberation of that nation during World War II. Until the recent ceremony at the veterans home, all presentations have been to living veterans. This time, two medals were presented posthumously.
Sgt. Ahzez “Jim” Karim was an Army veteran originally from Arizona, and later California. Drafted in 1943, after training he parachuted behind German lines in the dark of night. He took part in the D-Day invasion and was awarded the Silver Star, two Bronze Stars and other medals.
Sgt. LeRoy M. Wagner was a native of Philadelphia. He enlisted in the Army on Dec. 9, 1941, two days after the U.S. was attacked at Pearl Harbor. A member of the 45th Infantry Division, he was awarded the Bronze Star, the Purple Heart and other medals.
During the French Revolution Napoleon wanted to reward civilians and soldiers, individuals of all ranks and professions, men, women, foreign nationals and French citizens with an award for outstanding achievements in military or civilian life. The Legion of Honor was born and years later it would be presented to Americans who fought to defend France during the ravaged days of WWII. Karim and Wagner are the latest to have been honored.
Karim and Wagner lived at the Nevada State Veterans Home on Veterans Memorial Drive in their later years. The home’s administrator, Linda Gelinger, spoke highly of the two, whose family members attended the event.
“Both men were true gentlemen. This was a very memorable ceremony for the families and the veterans of the home,” she said. “A sense of pride and patriotism was felt throughout the ceremony.”
Dignitaries attending included Nevada Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske, who told the group she was proud to be a part of the event. She explained that she had an uncle who served in WWII and described some of the details of the D-Day landing.
Among the family members present was David Wagner, the youngest son of LeRoy Wagner. He praised his father and noted some of the missions his dad was a part of. He said the sergeant was involved in many campaigns and was one of the Americans who liberated the Dachau concentration camp. He saved the lives of several fellow soldiers, which earned him his medals.
Regarding Karim and Wagner, Gelinger told the audience, “We loved both of them.” She said Karim had been looking forward to receiving the Legion of Honor on behalf of all of his former troops. He had taken part in combat operations in Normandy, Holland and the Battle of the Bulge. Speaking for residents and employees of the home, she said, “When he died, it was an emotional day for all of us.”
The French motto is Liberty, Equality, Fraternity. Those words apply to the people of the United States just as much as the citizens of France. The French government in Nevada was represented by Bob Reed. He opened the ceremony on behalf of the people of France, Christophe Lemon, the consul general of France in Los Angeles, and the country’s President Emanuel Macron.
It was noted that France has stood by the red, white and blue ever since the American Revolution. The dates are years apart, but it’s fitting that the two brave U.S. soldiers who served in the 1940s will be forever remembered with such honors presented in 2018. The continuing saga of American and French history beginning in the 1700s has now been intertwined and extended into the patriotic halls of Boulder City’s Nevada State Veterans Home.
Chuck N. Baker is a Purple Heart veteran of the Vietnam War and the host of “That’s America to Me” every Sunday at 7 a.m. on 97.1-FM.