Better late than never

Published 12:00 am Monday, February 2, 2009


Staff Reporter

RESERVE — After being a “forgotten man from a forgotten war” for 57 years, retired Army Sergeant and Korean War Veteran George Lezu is receiving some much-deserved recognition.

With the help of his sisters, and U.S. Senator David Vitter, Lezu, 82, finally received the Purple Heart medal he rightfully earned in August of 1951 fighting on the front lines in Yanggu Korea.

“I was shot through the thigh and spent about five days in the hospital,” Lezu said of his injury. “It might be late, but this means everything to me. This is the greatest honor I’ve ever gotten.”

Joined by Gov. Bobby Jindal, Lane Carson, secretary of the Louisiana Department of Veterans Affairs, presented Lezu with the Purple Heart — a military service award that dates back to 1782 — at a Wednesday afternoon ceremony at the Southeast Louisiana War Veterans Home in Reserve.

“Sergeant Lezu, you are a hero and a national treasure and I am honored in this event,” Carson said before the presentation. “This is a shining example of your strength and character.”

Wednesday’s ceremony was organized by the Northshore Chapter 741 of the Military Order of the Purple Heart, which is headquartered in Covington. Roy Kellum, the chapter commander, said it is a rare occasion for a soldier to not immediately receive the Purple Heart when he or she is wounded in the line of duty. He said Lezu’s case was a matter of oversight.

“When [Lezu] was wounded, he was quickly shipped back to the States before he could be presented with the medal,” Kellum said. “His commander did not file the appropriate paperwork for the medal, and there was no follow-up on his part at the time of the incident. The matter just fell through the cracks.”

To make matters worse, in July of 1973 a massive fire at a National Archives Center in Missouri completely destroyed Lezu’s military records along with about 80 percent of personal records from 1912 to 1960.

Lezu served in the Army from 1948 until 1951, when he was shot in the groin area in a battle that nearly wiped out his entire unit. He, along with the remaining five members of his squad were captured by Chinese forces in Korea and held as POWs for about a day. He said his captors treated them to a propaganda lecture before finally being released.

After leaving the service, Lezu, a descendant of Hungarian immigrants and a native of Albany, La., lived a normal life. In 1954, he earned his Bachelors of Education degree from Southeastern Louisiana University in Hammond and would eventually move on to join the staff of Plaquemine High School, just outside Baton Rouge, where he taught math for 34 years. Although he moved on from the service, Lezu would often inquire about what became of his medal.

When Lezu relocated to the Reserve veterans’ home in March of last year after suffering a stroke, his inquiries became more numerous and his family organized a push to get him his medal.

Lezu’s sister, Rosa Pfiffner, 73, enlisted the help of Sen. Vitter’s office, who contacted Kellum’s organization to get the process going.

“It is a humbling honor to work a case like this where we get to properly recognize veterans for protecting freedoms we all enjoy,” said Vitter, who was not present at the ceremony, but called in on a speakerphone. “I must thank you again for your service and sacrifice.”

Although Lezu’s sacrifice might have been overlooked for 57 years, he said his medal will be forever admired and never forgotten.

“It’s going to hang where it won’t fall off,” Lezu said.