EDEN, N.C. — Paul Prewitt is adjusting to the idea of knighthood and having plenty of chuckles as his friends and fellow veterans rib him and genuflect in his honor.
The 99-year-old, who served under Gen. George S. Patton during his 2½ years of duty in Europe during World War II, will be made a Knight of the National Order of the Legion of Armor by the French government on Jan. 16 when a French consul general travels to Rockingham County to bestow the honor.
“I’m taking a lot of kidding from a lot of people. They’re always trying to curtsy when they see me,’’ Prewitt said with a laugh on Monday.
“It is an honor, and they are proud. I’m proud,’’ said Prewitt, who will gather with friends and family for the ceremony at the American Legion in Reidsville.
Drafted to serve under Patton
He will always be amazed that he was approved for service after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, said Prewitt, still spry and doing chores that included cutting limbs and making three dozen deviled eggs on Monday.
It was a dark time for the nation and the Prewitt family in their home town Jonesboro, Arkansas. Prewitt’s brother Brady had perished in the Japanese attack.
“When I was drafted into the Army, I didn’t think they would take me because I was only 5-foot-1 and I only weighed 111 pounds at the time,’’ said Prewitt, who keeps his brother’s Purple Heart medal atop his mantle.
But despite his diminutive stature, the military issued Prewitt a uniform and marching orders, and he was off to basic training at Fort Eustis, Virginia.
By spring of 1943, Prewitt was on his way to French Morocco, Algiers and Libya where American troops worked in concert with English regiments to prepare to invade Sicily.
A technical sergeant, he was part of a unit in charge of supplying food and ammunition to the troops, he said. After Africa, Prewitt went to Naples, Italy, as part of the Rome/Arno Campaign. Following Italy’s surrender, American forces invaded German-controlled France at Marseilles.
“I didn’t fire my rifle at the enemy during the whole war,” Prewitt said in a June interview. “All we had to worry about was the German artillery trying to take out the supply trucks. The group I was with never got hit.’’
The war took Prewitt and the troops up the east side of France, across the Rhine River at Mannheim, Germany, near the Swiss border. Troops began fighting their way north toward Berlin, Prewitt said in June. By the time they arrived, they were elated to learn that the war was over.
By September, 1945, Prewitt was on his way home aboard the U.S.S. Liberty with several hundred other servicemen.
Reflecting on the current strife between the U.S. and Iran and Iraq that has U.S. soldiers, many from North Carolina’s Fort Bragg, deploying, Prewitt said, “The only thing I can say is that I hope that they all come back. I was in three invasions and was lucky to get through all of them.’’
Back stateside, Prewitt established a career within the U.S. Department of Labor as a deputy commissioner within the office of Worker’s Compensation, overseeing five states. His career meant living in Washington, D. C., New York City, and New Orleans until he retired in 1978.
Three landmark occasions this year
The honor will be the first of three landmark occasions for Prewitt this year, he explained. On March 23, the former will turn 100, a milestone he plans to celebrate mightily with plenty of friends and his favorite dessert, chocolate pie.
In April, he will return to his native Hardy, Arkansas, where he will bear witness to the military burial of his dear brother Brady, who perished during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941.
Also buried in the family cemetery are Prewitt’s grandfather, John Wesley Prewitt, a Civil War soldier whom he remembers well from childhood. His father, William Abner Prewitt, who served and was wounded in World War I, is also laid to rest at the site.
Considering Prewitt’s family and personal legacy of service, his wife Susie Prior Prewitt said, “I feel blessed to know him and to share my life with him. He is an amazing person. And this year is quite a year. We are just overwhelmed!’’
Embraced by Eden
The Prewitts moved to Eden in 2009 from Alexandria, Virginia, when they tired of the high cost and fast pace of the D.C. suburb. Susie Prewitt had visited Eden, suggested it as an ideal place to move, and the couple relocated.
And since settling in their Grant Street home, the couple has made scores of good friends, stayed active in veteran’s affairs, and enjoyed membership in the First Baptist Church of Eden where Susie teaches Sunday school.
“When we retired here 10 years ago, we didn’t know anybody,’’ Susie Prewitt said. “And the outpouring of kindness by friends in unbelievable.’’
Daily walks at Walmart and staying active with day trips and various speaking engagements with school kids and veterans groups are all part of Prewitt’s routine, he said.
So, what’s next for Prewitt after he extinguishes the candles on his 100th birthday cake?
“I hardly know,’’ Prewitt said. “I guess I’ll brag about the fact that I’m about to start my second 100 years.”