WW II veteran earns
France’s highest honor
By Kathy McCarty
SAWYER HONORED — Eugene Sawyer, a WWII veteran and resident of Presque Isle, was recently awarded the Legion d’Honneur, France’s highest military order which is only appointed by direct edict of French President Nicolas Sarkozy. Pictured at the ceremony at the Elks Lodge, kneeling in front, from left are members of the Maine Army National Guard: Sgt. Mayberry (MP), PFC Harper (Co. B), 2nd Lt. Scull (Co. B), SSgt. Simmons (Co. B) and Cdt. Campbell (ROTC). Standing are: Ltc. Campbell (52 TC); Consul General Christophe Guilhou; Eugene Sawyer; Brig. Gen. Brent Boyles, assistant adjutant general for the Maine Army National Guard; SSgt. Voter (Honor Guard); and Sgt. Buckley (Honor Guard).
PRESQUE ISLE — An Aroostook County veteran who served in France during World War II was presented in October with France’s highest honor, the Legion d’Honneur at a ceremony held at the Presque Isle Elks Lodge.
Eugene Sawyer, a native of Linneus who currently resides in Presque Isle, was a teenager when he and other members of the U.S. Army’s 9th Infantry Division, 47th Regiment, 2nd Battalion, went ashore at Normandy. As a machine gunner in H Company, Sawyer participated in the Allied forces’ retaking of the Cherbourg Peninsula of France.
“I was drafted Nov. 21, 1943, for the Army. I went in when I was 18 and was wounded shortly after turning 19. I was sent to England where my wounds were treated, then went back to the same outfit,” said Sawyer, noting he was living in Linneus when he entered the service and went through Houlton for processing.
Like many other soldiers of his era, he knows the exact amount of time he spent in the military — years, months and days.
Photo courtesy of Pat Lovely
EUGENE SAWYER, at left, is presented with the Legion d’Honneur by French Consul General Christophe Guilhou during a ceremony in October at the Elks Lodge in Presque Isle.
“I was in the Army for six years, three months and 13 days. After World War II, I got out and stayed out for four years and eight months, then re-enlisted for Korea, serving 10 months in the infantry in Korea,” Sawyer said. “In Korea, I was with the Army’s 9th Infantry Division, 38th Regiment, 1st Battalion, Company D.”
Upon returning to Maine, Sawyer went to work for the state.
“I worked for the state highway department for 33 years. Family on my wife’s side was from Presque Isle, so here I am. I still have family in the Houlton area,” he said.
Sawyer was first made aware of the awards being presented to veterans by French officials through an article he read.
“I first heard about this award when I read an article that said veterans who were entitled could apply and, if qualified, would receive the honor. It required submitting a DD214 — discharge paper. I submitted a copy and was notified earlier this year I was eligible,” said Sawyer.
Friends, family, area veterans and a number of dignitaries joined Sawyer at the Elks Lodge on Oct. 10, where Sawyer was presented the honor by Consul General of France Christophe Guilhou.
Addressing the group of approximately 100 people assembled to witness Sawyer’s decoration, Guilhou stated, “If we are able to enjoy the fruits of democracy and freedom today, it is thanks to the many Americans who took part in World War II. France will never forget that it was them who helped liberate our country from Nazi occupation. Moreover, younger generations must realize that it is due to the sacrifices made by men such as Mr. Sawyer that we are able to live in a free and democratic country. Theirs is a dying generation, and it is imperative that we honor them for their courage while we still can.”
Also speaking at the event was Brig. Gen. Brent Boyles, assistant adjutant general for the Maine Army National Guard, who detailed Sawyer’s military actions that earned him France’s highest honor.
“We are honoring one of the Octofoil veterans who were also known as the ‘Old Reliables’ by the French and other Europeans,” said Boyles, indicating Sawyer was being recognized for his involvement in the expulsion of German forces from France during World War II.
“Sawyer’s battalion moved east through France and became embroiled in the infamous ‘hedgerow fighting’ around St. Lo. It was in the course of a battle there on June 20, 1944, that Sawyer’s company came under direct tank fire. Sawyer, as well as five other occupants of his foxhole, was wounded. Sawyer suffered shrapnel wounds to his left shoulder, for which he was awarded a Purple Heart,” said Boyles.
Boyles added that for Sawyer’s gallantry in combat during the European theatre campaign, he received two Bronze Stars, in addition to the Purple Heart and other awards.
“All around us this evening are reminders of the men and women who stepped forward, in every generation, to serve the United States and the cause of freedom and who, as veterans, continue to make a contribution for the welfare of our nation,” said Boyles.
Photo courtesy of Pat Lovely
RECOGNIZED during a ceremony at the Elks Lodge Oct. 10 was Army veteran Eugene Sawyer, whose actions in France during WWII earned him France’s highest honor, the Legion d’Honneur. Pictured in front of the Honor Guard from left are: Ernest Lovely, Elks’ member; Sawyer; Brig. Gen. Brent Boyles, Maine Army National Guard (at the podium); and French Consul General Christophe Guilhou.
Boyles said Sawyer’s recognition was “long overdue.”
“He (Sawyer) has carried the title of veteran since 1944. We also know him as our neighbor, friend and family member. It is veterans like Gene that makes us proud to be Americans and inspires those of us currently fighting our nation’s wars to continue to understand the importance of defending the Constitution against all enemies,” said Boyles.
Sen. Olympia Snowe was among those who sent words of praise for Sawyer.
“You served our nation proudly and patriotically — without question and without regard to your personal wellbeing. Your dedication and sacrifices certainly made differences in the freedoms we enjoy today. You didn’t just think about your own country in WWII, your convictions to freedom and to peace permeated into your role in the liberation of France and your efforts have not gone unnoticed,” stated Snowe. “Although we cannot imagine the challenges you faced, we can take this time now to say a resounding thank you for your honor and for your bravery.”
Sawyer said he believes there “are probably more around that just don’t know about this honor but are eligible to receive it.”
“It’s quite an honor. I was surprised to find out it existed and I was eligible for it,” said Sawyer. “My family’s response to the news has been good. They’re proud to see me get it.”
Boyles’ closing statement at the ceremony serves as a reminder to us all to not take our freedom for granted.
“All of us lead busy lives. We have little time to pause and reflect. But I ask you: Do not hasten through the weeks ahead (leading up to Veteran’s Day). Take the time to remember the good souls whose memories are a blessing to you and your family. Above all, take the time to honor our fellow Americans who have given their last full measure of devotion to our country and for the freedoms we cherish,” said Boyles.