MORRIS – Seventy-one years after Arnold “Sonny” Kjellesvik found himself drafted into World War II, he was recognized by France and awarded the Knight of the Legion of Honor for his contribution to the liberation of France.
Kjellesvik was born and raised in Lisbon and attended Newark High School before dropping out after just two years. He planned to stay in Lisbon and work as a farm machinery mechanic, when he received the letter from the United States government calling him to duty.
“I’d never been too far from home,” Kjellesvik said. “I was working at the shipyard in Seneca when I was drafted.”
Kjellesvik was an Army combat engineer who served under a battalion commander from Texas named Ray. His unit was called “Rugged Ray’s Ramblers.”
“If a unit in training did a 20-mile hike, we had to do 25 miles. If the other unit did the obstacle course in 45 minutes, we had to do it in 30,” he said. “We gained the name Rugged Ray’s Ramblers, and we’d put signs by the bridges we built that said built by Rugged Ray’s Ramblers.”
Rugged Ray’s Ramblers were responsible for building floating bridges, so armies could get their men and equipment across rivers to continue on in battle.
He passed through Scotland, England, and served in two campaigns in France. He served five campaigns throughout of World War II.
“I was just 18 years old when I went in,” Kjellesvik said. “I wasn’t scared. I was petrified. I had so many close calls.”
He said the Battle of the Bulge in the Ardennes Forest was the worst he experienced.
“When the Battle of the Bulge started it was cold, the artillery was tremendous,” he said. “I learned a lot about people.”
At the age of 20, the war was over, and Kjellesvik returned to Lisbon, where he married his wife, Betty, and raised two children, working as the farm machinery mechanic he thought he’d be before he went to war.
The French government commemorated the 50th anniversary of the invasion of Normandy by the allied forces in 1994 with The French Jubilee of Liberty Medal, which Kjellesvik thought he would receive, but didn’t.
“They ran out before I got mine, and I was told they weren’t going to make any more,” Kjellesvik said.
He received the National Order of the Legion of Honor at the 60th anniversary of D-Day, and this year has received the Knight of the Legion of Honor Award.
Created to honor extraordinary contributions to France, the Legion of Honor is France’s highest distinction.
According to the award, this outstanding distinction is the highest honor that France can bestow upon those who have achieved remarkable deeds for France. It states, “his invaluable contribution to the Liberation of France, during World War II has not been forgotten. The award is issued by Decree of the President of the French Republic.”
Kjellesvik had to apply for the award, which has strict criteria, according to the award’s website.
“Interested veterans of all the different armed forces must have fought in at least one of the three main campaigns of the Liberation of France: Normandy, Provence/Southern France or Northern France. Actions having taken place in Belgium, Germany, Italy or any other neighboring European country are not taken into consideration,” according to the website.
He had to provide service records and documentation showing any citations he received for his efforts in the war.
“Since only a small number of Legion of Honor medals are awarded each year in the United States, care is taken to nominate only those with the most distinguished records. It is important to have such decorations as the Bronze Star, Distinguished Flying Cross, Purple Heart, Silver Star and higher, earned in French territory in order to have a competitive record,” the instructions read.
“I don’t know why exactly I deserve it,” Kjellesvik said. “There are plenty of others, a lot buried over there that deserve it more than me.”
Kjellesvik resides at Park Pointe Senior Living in Morris. It will be hosting a meet and greet in honor of his service at 1:30 p.m. April 23. The public is invited to attend.
If You Go
What: Meet & Greet with Arnold “Sonny” Kjellesvik, Knight of the Legion of Honor
When: 1:30 p.m., April 23
Where: Park Pointe Senior Living, 1221 Edgewater Dr., Morris