Their days in uniform are well behind them but a ceremony at the Soldiers Memorial in downtown St. Louis demonstrates the service and heroism of three area veterans have not been forgotten.
Receiving the Legion of Honor from France, which that nation views as its highest distinction, were Glen A. Harrison of O’Fallon, Alfred C. Villagran of Chesterfield and Eugene J. Harmack, a long-time South County resident who recently moved to Kirkwood.
Making the presentations at the Jan. 23 ceremony was Guillaume Lacroix, the consul general for the Midwest Region at France’s Chicago office. A standing-room-only crowd filled a second-floor meeting room at the Memorial for the event.
Harrison, now 98, was a 23-year-old 2nd lieutenant and copilot who flew 17 missions over Europe with the 339th Squadron in the 8th Air Force’s 96th Bomb Group before being shot down and becoming a prisoner of war. On an earlier mission, his plane was so badly damaged that the crew had to bail out over the English Channel.
A technical sergeant serving as a radio operator and gunner with the U.S. Army Air Forces, Villagran flew 33 missions during the Normandy, Northern France and Germany campaigns.
Now 95 and the youngest of the honorees, Villagran was just 19 while a member of 369th Bomb Squadron in the 8th Air Force’s 306th Bomb Group. In comments about his service, Lacroix noted that Villagran’s plane lost three of its four engines on one mission and five crew members were killed on another.
Villagran’s wife, Kay, who accompanied her husband at the ceremony, noted they have been married for 73 years. The couple has lived in the Chesterfield area for more than 50 years.
Harmack was a communications operator in the Army’s 83rd Division, 329th Infantry Regiment Headquarters Company in the Normandy, Northern France, Rhineland, Ardennes and Central Europe campaigns.
He was 24 when he and his fellow soldiers found themselves embroiled in what became known as the Battle of the Bulge late in December 1944 and early January1945 in the heavily forested Ardennes region of Eastern Belgium.
It would be the last major German offensive on the war’s western front.
Founded by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1802, the National Order of the Legion of Honor recognizes eminent service to the French Republic. Recipients of the award are named by decree signed by the president of the Republic.
Retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Cassie A. Strom served as the event’s master of ceremonies.