Payson resident Karl Knotts was 26 years old when he enlisted in the U.S. Army.
Now -- 56 years later -- Knotts is being recognized by the French government for his efforts during World War II. He will be honored at a Veterans' Day ceremony Thursday at Payson High School and will be presented with the French Medal of Liberty by U.S. Rep. J.D. Hayworth.
Knotts said he enlisted in the Army even though he was married and was working as a welder for the defense.
"After I got in it, all hell broke loose," he said last week.
He was in the military for four years.
"When I got out, I wasn't myself," he said. "I spent four months in a hospital in France. They called it combat exhaustion and I had a few scars on me."
He had been a private first class in the 2nd Armored Division under General George Patton. He saw combat in Kazarene Pass in North Africa and during the invasions of Sicily and Normandy. He was on Omaha Beach June 6, 1944, and battled through hedgerows until his unit reached St. Lo in France. It was there that Knotts was wounded and subsequently received his first Purple Heart.
He rejoined his division before the Battle of the Bulge, entered Germany and was wounded again, earning his second Purple Heart.
Knotts said the injury occurred at Achen when a tank was blown out from under him and some other soldiers. Two men got out alive -- Knotts was one of them.
He was taken to a hospital in Paris and was not expected to walk again, but eventually he did.
In addition to the two Purple Hearts, Knotts also received four Bronze Stars.
When Knotts talked about his latest medal, he said it wasn't just for him.
"It's for all the young heroes who didn't make it on D-Day," he said. "They died horrible deaths right there on the beach. I did all I could, but when I die, I will apologize to them because I lived and couldn't save them."
More than 10,000 casualties were reported on those beaches, he said.
"Sometimes when I think of my Purple Hearts, Bronze Stars and my stripes, I am very proud of what we did," he said. "Freedom isn't free, you know."