France honors WWI veteran Jesse Radda

By Mary Marek
Posted 11/11/99

Jesse W. Radda, formerly of Washington, was one of three World War I veterans from eastern Iowa who was posthumously awarded the French government’s highest honor, the National Order of the Legion …

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France honors WWI veteran Jesse Radda


Jesse W. Radda, formerly of Washington, was one of three World War I veterans from eastern Iowa who was posthumously awarded the French government’s highest honor, the National Order of the Legion of Honor. All three men lived to be more than 100 years old, but none of them lived to accept the medal.

Radda’s niece, Julia Zieser of rural Washington, traveled to Keystone in Benton County September 8 to receive the award in her uncle’s name.

“My uncle was proud of his country and proud to be a veteran,” Zieser said, “I wish today we had as much pride in our country as the older generation did. We should be indebted to our veterans for their service and the sacrifices they made for us all.

“This medal will be a treasure and a keepsake in our family forever.”

Radda was 21 years old when he enlisted in the Army June 4, 1918. The Army transported him on the Inter-Urban Railway from Camp Dodge to New York, where he was detached to Fort Totten. Departing Fort Totten July 17, he arrived in France September 3, 1918. Radda served with Coast Artillery unassigned; his last assignment was to the 48th Battalion anti-aircraft sector. He served with the American Expeditionary Force from September 25, 1918 to January 10, 1919.

History of the Legion of Honor

The groundwork for the Legion of Honor was laid immediately after the French Revolution of 1789. Prior to that time, nobility and class determined a person’s standing and success within French society and their military. Few common people had the opportunity to be recognized.

The government of Napoleon Bonaparte and other revolutionaries of 1789 wanted to make French society more egalitarian. Napoleon strove to make class lines less distinct and included those from different political backgrounds and classes in his government.

To further the idea of equality, Napoleon initiated the Legion of Honor in the belief it would change the long-standing tradition of recognizing only the nobility. In May 1802 the Legion of Honor was created to recognize civilian and military accomplishments.

November 11, 1998, people worldwide celebrated the 80th anniversary of the end of World War I on the “eleventh hour of the eleventh day in the eleventh month” of 1918. To mark the occasion, the French government decided to award living American World War I veterans who had served in France the Legion of Honor, a campaign instituted by French President Jacques Chirac.

“By intervening alongside the French and other Allied troops, the United States was crucial to victory,” Chirac said. “Every French citizen remembers the decisive role of General John Pershing’s troops in the re-taking of the Saint Mihiel salient, in the Meuse-Argonne offensive and at Chateau-Thierry, where they helped save Paris.”

“It was life or death for our country,” said French Deputy Consul General Jean-Rene Gehan, who was in Keystone to make the presentation. “It was a turning point when U.S. forces entered Europe in April of 1917. It gave renewed hope for the French people.

“We felt it was very important to recognize these veterans before they passed away. They were responsible for the survival of France. This honor is long overdue.”

Too long overdue, as it happened. Radda died February 14 at the age of 101, Jehiras Houts of Marion died June 8 at the age of 104, and Louie Junge, of Keystone died the week before the ceremony at the age of 102.

Jesse W. Radda

Radda returned to civilian life from Camp Dodge where he was discharged in 1919.

He married in 1924 and he and his wife, Olive, farmed for a time in Washington County. In 1940 they opened a Christian bookstore in Washington, which they operated until 1960.

Radda was a charter member of the Washington VFW Post and in April 1997 received the 75-year certificate of continuous membership in American Legion Post 29.

Though the Raddas had no children of their own, they were active with local youth groups and were close to their nieces and nephews.

“He brought up us kids with a lot of respect for veterans,” Zieser said. “He was big on Memorial Day and Veterans Day.”

A bugler in the Army, Radda played taps at the funerals of more than 700 veterans in southeast Iowa, including his own, where a tape of his performance was played as he was laid to rest with full military honors in Elm Grove Cemetery in Washington.