McCLURE — An area veteran received France’s highest distinction on Friday.
Robert Rowland, 93, McClure, was awarded the French Legion of Honor by the consul general of France for the Midwest region, Guillaume Lacroix, at the McClure American Legion.
“Mr. Rowland, you served your country and in doing so responded to the call of my country,” said Lacroix. “France was on its knees in the 1940s. Without the response of the American people, our flag, the French flag, would not fly today. You served your country and you served my country. We will never forget. The French people will never forget.”
Rowland served with the 387th Bomb Group, 8th Air Force. Rowland flew 36 combat missions, including ones in Normandy, Moulins and Versailles, Holland and other sites. He also took part in Air Offensive Europe Operations during World War II. He was awarded several honors including the Distinguished Flying Cross, Air Medal with three lead clusters, the Good Conduct Award and European-African Medal with three bronze stars.
The Legion of Honor is the highest distinction that the French government can bestow. Recipients are named in a decree signed by the president of France and is given to those “who have achieved remarkable deeds for France.”
“Today is very special,” said Lacroix. “I represent today, the French president, Emmanuel Macron, on a personal level. Only the president of the French republic has the authority to recognize and make someone a knight, a knight in the legion of our country. This is France’s biggest distinction.”
Rowland had turned 18 in January 1943 and joined the military in July of that year, becoming a B-17 gunner. On May 10, 1944, he arrived in England.
Lacroix stated that during Rowland’s 36 combat missions, he was never wounded, but admits to getting “just a little scratch.” In November 1944, Rowland returned to the United States and was discharged from the Air Force in October 1945.
“The French people will also honor your fellow servicemen and women who couldn’t make it home and are taking good care of them at our cemeteries,” Lacroix stated. “It is for us sacred ground.”
There were more than 60 people in attendance at the ceremony, including several children.
“I am grateful our younger generation is here,” Lacroix said. “They are the future of your and my country, but we need to transmit our history and learn the lessons of history.”
Rowland, himself, has five children with his late wife, Sarah. The couple also have 12 grandchildren and 16 great-grandchildren.
LaCroix said thanks to America’s greatest generation and those lessons learned, Europe is now made up of allies. The French people also greatly appreciate the friendship of the United States and its citizens, he said.
“So Mr. American hero, Mr. French hero — Robert Rowland — from the bottom of my heart, from the French president and French people, thank you for your service,” LaCroix said as he pinned the French Legion of Honor onto Rowland.
“I thank everyone here and I thank the French government,” Rowland said, also thanking American Legion Post 332 and everyone who made the ceremony possible.
In addition to the French Legion of Honor, Rowland also was presented with a flag that flew over the U.S. Capitol by a representative from Congressman Bob Latta’s office and a flag that flew over the state capital from State Rep. Jim Hoops.
It also was announced that Rowland will be part of the HBO documentary “Cold Blue” next year.