Jean-Dominique Le Garrec, Honorary Consul of France, felt it was very appropriate that he was recently in the county named for the Marquis de Lafayette, a French aristocrat who fought in the American Revolution. That’s when the friendship between the two countries formed and still endures today.
“Eighty years ago in an evil endeavor Nazi Germany invaded over 20 counties in Europe and Africa, including France, the country of my birth,” said Le Garrec. “Fortunately for the French, we had friends across the Atlantic who share our values of liberty and freedom.”
Le Garrec wasn’t here to see the sites, but on official business. He came to bestow a rare honor to one of Fayette County’s heroes, Whitman Evans, a World War II veteran from Hopwood, who landed in Southern France in 1944 as part of Operation Dragoon, often referred to as the “Forgotten D-Day.” However, the importance of that mission isn’t forgotten on France. The French is celebrating the 75th anniversary of the operation this summer.
Le Garrec presented Evans with the French Legion of Honor Medal at a recent ceremony held at the American Veterans (AMVETS) General George E. Marshall Post 103 in Hopwood, where Evans is a life member.
After receiving the honor, Evans was humble.
“I don’t really have much to say," he said. "This brought back a lot of old memories.”
Born in Somerfield, Evans joined the U.S. Army in 1943 and served as a tail gunner on a B24 bomber and a flight engineer on a C47 transport aircraft in World War II.
The award, which in effect makes Evans a Knight in the French Legion of Honor, is France’s biggest and most prestigious honor bestowed on an soldier or citizen. It was established by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1802.
“It’s a really big honor for an individual to win this award,” said Frank Steck of the AMVETS, who referred Evans for the honor.
According to Steck, the award puts Evans in some pretty amazing company of Americans who have won the award, including President Dwight Eisenhower, Gen. Douglas McArthur, Gen. George Patton and of course, Gen. George C.Marshall, for who the Post is named.
The award has very strict criteria, including requiring the candidate has been awarded some of the most distinguished honors in his own country, including the Silver Star, Purple Heart or Good Conduct Medal, just to name a few.
Evans, for his military service, has been awarded a Good Conduct Medal, a Victory Medal, an American Theater Service Medal, an European African Middle Eastern medal with two bronze service stars for both the Southern France Campaign and the Rome-Arno Campaign, which he also participated, and an Honorable Service Lapel Button. And now, the French Legion of Honor Award for his contribution to the liberation of France.
After returning home from the war, Evans served his community as a church elder and deacon, chairman of the American Cancer Society for two years, an active member of the Free and Accepted Masons, a member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, and of course, the AMVETS.