MONTPELIER, Vt. — When James Facos was squeezed into the ball turret of a B-17 Flying Fortress, using the two 50-caliber machine guns on either side of him to soften up German air defenses to let his plane drop its payload of bombs, he wasn’t looking to get into the good graces of the French.

He and the nine other members of his bomber crew, based in England, were just trying to get through another of what would end up being 30 missions – the last on June 5, 1944, against German positions in occupied Normandy, paving the way for the Allied invasion that would begin the next day. But when he opened his mail at his Montpelier, Vermont, home one day last week, the now 91-year-old Facos found a certificate showing that French President Francois Hollande had installed him as a chevalier – a knight – in that country’s Legion of Honor.

His reaction to the news? “Startled … I know the value of the medal. It’s one of the highest honors France has to offer.”

The Army Air Corps had awarded him the Distinguished Flying Cross at 19, but as for this new honor, “I was caught by it,” Facos said. “To be a chevalier – a chevalier you know is a knight. So I’m recognized as a knight,” he said, a bit of wonder in his voice.

The award was first given by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1802. But since 2004 the French have awarded it to U.S. veterans who gave distinguished service defending France against Nazi Germany in World War II.

In a letter notifying Facos that he had been selected for the honor, Valery Freland, France’s consul general in Boston, wrote that the award “is a sign of France’s infinite gratitude and appreciation for your personal and precious contribution to the United States’ decisive role in the liberation of our country in World War II.”