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100-year-old World War II veteran from San Antonio recognized with French Legion of Honor

Commissioner Tommy Calvert Holding French Consul General Valérie Barbara
Valentina Barrera-Ibarra / Texas Public Radio
Gen. Russell D. Driggers, French Consul General Valérie Barbara, and Commissioner Tommy Calvert presenting The French Legion of Honor medal

Sergeant First Class Gerald Mullin, 100, was born in Sweet Home, TX, in 1924. He enlisted in the army in 1942 at Ft. Sam Houston in San Antonio. Mullin was inducted into the French Legion of Honor on Wednesday, July 3, at Ft. Sam Houston Theater.

He was a platoon commander under the Red Ball Express, an all-black transportation unit that supplied weapons, fuel, and food. His efforts were crucial in rescuing Jewish victims from concentration camps and supporting frontline operations against the Nazis. The Red Ball Express traveled across Europe including France and Czechoslovakia.

Mullin has received prestigious awards previously including the African Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with Two Bronze Stars, the Good Conduct Medal, the World War II Victory Medal, and the Army Commendation Medal just to name a few.

Gerald Mullin holding his Bexar County Proclamation certificate and La Prensa newspaper article at Golden Corral on May 10, 2024.
Courtesy Photo / John Welch
Gerald Mullin holding his Bexar County Proclamation certificate and La Prensa newspaper article at Golden Corral on May 10, 2024.

French Consul General, Valérie Baraban, bestowed a medal of the Legion upon Mullin in recognition of his contribution to the American liberation of France and acts of heroism in the victory over Nazi Germany in World War II.

“Gerald Mullin was repeatedly exposed to German landmines, artillery attacks, and German air attacks,” said Baraban.

Mullin was inducted as a Chevalier (Knight) of the Legion of Honor by Decree of the president of France, Emmanuel Macron.

Mullin wasn’t able to attend the ceremony in person on Wednesday due to an illness but is now doing well.

This award is a sign of France’s infinite gratitude and appreciation for Mullin.

He served 24 brave years during some of the bloodiest times to be a soldier, especially during the Battle of the Bulge.

French ministers are responsible for identifying potential honorees, relying on the societal network which includes mayors, employers and leaders of non-profit organizations.

San Antonio Commissioner Tommy Calvert standing beside "The Golden Corral Boys"
Valentina Barrera-Ibarra / Texas Public Radio
San Antonio Commissioner Tommy Calvert standing beside "The Golden Corral Boys"

Eligibility rules include demonstrating outstanding merits in the service of the nation, in a military or a civilian capacity. 20 years of activity at least are required to qualify for the Legion of Honor.

The Legion of Honor is the highest French decoration and one of the most notable in the world. Previous recipients include former president, Dwight D. Eisenhower and Gen. Douglas MacArthur.

More than 350,000 African Americans served in World War II, even during a time of segregation. 171 of those soldiers were bestowed a medal from the French Legion of Honor, and Mullin bumps that number up to 172.

“This work started years ago,” said Baraban. “We were so happy that the decision was made to give this award to Gerald Mullin.”

This ceremony was made possible with the help of Bexar County Commissioner Tommy Calvert, but one of Mullin’s good friends, John Welch, kickstarted the proclamation at a Golden Corral.

“A fine example of a man [that] kids can emulate,” said Welch, retired Marine.

Their dinners consist of veteran hats surrounding the diner that act as an icebreaker which turns into long-term friendships. That's how Welch would end up meeting Mullin.

The French Legion of Honor medal gifted to Gerald Mullin on July 3rd, 2024
Valentina Barrera-Ibarra
The medal of French Legion of Honor gifted to Gerald Mullin on July 3rd, 2024

Calvert attended Mullin’s 100th birthday celebration at Golden Corral on Pat Booker Road. The commissioner had known Mullin for over 30 years growing up in the same neighborhood.

Although Mullin had seen it all during his 24 years serving his country, he kept his time in the military to himself and didn’t talk much about it. Calvert had no idea how much of an impact he had on the outcome of WWII.

“What I knew of Mr. Mullin was he was the guy who was doing the fish fry at the VFW (Veteran of Foreign Wars) posts, said Calvert. “What I knew of Mr. Mullin was that he was a trustee in his church, Jacobs Chapel United Methodist Church.”

Calvert had received a special message from President Joe Biden and presented it at the ceremony after his speech:

“Sergeant Mullin, you represent the best of our nation's greatest generation. Through your service in World War II, you answered freedom's call at its hour of need standing in opposition to the forces of fascism. Your bravery [and] heroism helped liberate a continent and kept the flame of democracy burning bright around the world. As you celebrate this incredible achievement, please know that our nation owes you a debt of gratitude. We can never fully repay."

Brad Hale, retired Air Force, met Mullin through the Golden Corral gatherings as well. He got to know the background behind the joyous smile Mullin keeps and began to get emotional talking about him before the ceremony.

“He's their hometown hero,” said Hale.

The meetings at the Golden Corral could be the reason this award was gifted to Mullin in the first place. This meeting place allowed strangers to conversate while eating food. The servers are a big part of why these veterans return to the restaurant. Some, such as Mullin, eat there twice a day.

“The ladies over at Golden Corral call him Grandpa,” said Hale.

On his 100th birthday, they awarded Mullin with a personal plaque stating he could eat at the Pat Booker location for free for the rest of his life.

Dr. Doris K. Williams met Mullin at Jacobs Chapel in 1983, and she said his meals at Golden Corral consist of a salad first, then chicken with potatoes, and then a little serving of green beans.

“He loves to participate with the waiters. They are looking for him. And if he's not there, they're almost on the phone calling to see where he is,” said Williams.

Mullin is one of the last few still alive having served in World War II. This award is to recognize his heroic contributions, but also his commitment to serving his community. Previously, he’s served as a leader in many organizations, including the Harvard Place/Eastlawn Neighborhood Association, the American Legion and various veteran and civic organizations.

Samuel is a communications senior at Texas A&M University-San Antonio. He serves as the station manager for the student-run organization, TAMUSA Radio, and is a staff writer for campus magazine El Espejo.

Samuel will graduate from A&M-San Antonio in the Fall 2024 semester and plans to continue on as a journalist in his hometown of San Antonio.