New Orleans hat seller honored by France for service in WWII

Feb 27, 2024, 11:51 AM

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A 99-year-old New Orleans businessman best known in the city as a proprietor of his family’s landmark hat store on St. Charles Avenue was honored by the president of France on Tuesday for his military service during World War II.

Samuel Meyer, who still puts in a few days a week at Meyer the Hatter, the business started by his grandfather in 1894, was awarded the rank of chevalier, or knight, of the National Order of the Legion of Honor.

“To receive this award from the French government, is testament to the bond that exists between our two nations,” Meyer said during a ceremony at the National World War II Museum, blocks away from his family business. “The bond between our two nations is unbreakable. And I am honored to have played a small part in strengthening it.”

Drafted at age 18, Meyer was a corporal with the 485th Fighter Squadron, 370th Fighter Group, Ninth Air Force. He was stationed at various times in Britain, Belgium, France and Germany. He served as an armorer, charged with loading bombs and ammunition on P-38 fighter planes. “I had to put the bullets in the guns,” he explained after the ceremony.

According to the Consulate General of France in New Orleans, the National Order of the Legion of Honor was established by Napoleon Bonaparte on May 19, 1802, and membership is considered France’s highest honor.

The award was bestowed on behalf of the French president by French Ambassador Laurent Bili, who pinned a medal to Meyer’s lapel as Meyer’s wife of 64 years, Marcelle, looked on with friends, family and museum visitors.

Speaking later with reporters, Bili stressed that the award must be earned.

“We are not giving an award to people for where we come from, their birth rights, but for their merit rights,” Bili said.

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New Orleans hat seller honored by France for service in WWII