Kerner Receives France's Legion d'Honneur from President Nicolas Sarkozy

By UCSF Today | November 14, 2007

John Kerner, MD, a World War II veteran from California who participated in the Liberation of France, was awarded France's Legion d'Honneur by President Nicolas Sarkozy during a special ceremony in Washington, DC on Nov. 6.

To express France's eternal gratitude to those who crossed the Atlantic to liberate it from oppression in 1944-45, the French president bestowed the Legion of Honor upon Kerner. He was one of seven American WWII veterans from all over the country to be honored at the residence of the French Ambassador in Washington, DC. The honorees were also present when Sarkozy addressed a joint session of Congress on Nov. 7. Elected in May 2007, President Sarkozy was paying his first official visit to the United States.

Kerner, a distinguished leader of the San Francisco medical community and former chief of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive sciences at Mount Zion, landed as a combat medic at Omaha Beach in Normandy shortly after D-Day. He then was involved in combat for 264 days in France, Belgium, Luxembourg and Germany. Kerner received the rarely given Combat Medic Award after riding the outside of a tank blasting its way through the siege at Bastogne. He also was awarded two Bronze Stars, five Battle Stars, and a Presidential Unit Citation.

Kerner chronicled his experiences in his book Combat Medic: World War II, in which he elaborated on descriptions from his letters sent home.

During more than 40 years in private practice, Kerner delivered more than 2,000 babies and developed a loyal following of patients. Together with Kerner's colleagues and family members, his patients helped to establish the John A. Kerner Endowed Chair, a position that focuses on cancer research and patient care pertaining to women. During his residency studies at UCSF, which he completed in 1949, Kerner worked with Herbert F. Traut, MD, then the chair of the obstetrics and gynecology department. Traut helped to develop the Pap smear, a test widely used to detect cancer of the cervix. Along with Traut, Kerner was instrumental in disseminating the Pap smear throughout the community, which drastically reduced the instances of cervical cancer among women.

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