Wednesday, June 29, 2016

TOP STORY >> French medals for vets

Leader staff writer

A dozen Second World War veterans from Arkansas, including one from Jacksonville, received the French Legion of Honor medal during a special ceremony Monday at the state Capitol rotunda in Little Rock.

Honorary Consul of France Beatrice Moore presented the Legion of Honor medals, the highest medal presented by the French government.

Receiving the French Legion of Honor Medals were Wilmer Plate of Jacksonville, Coy Buford of Stephens, Alice Beatty of Conway, Kenneth Evans of North Little Rock, David Huckabay of Paragould, Alvin McCarn of Mountain View, Russell Salento of Bella Vista, James Siler of Bradford, Kenneth Smith of Searcy, Chester Treadwell of Clinton, Elzer Tucker of Lowell and Earnest Yarbrough of White Hall.

Plate, 97, told The Leader, “I’m highly honored to receive the medal. It is something that I will remember for the rest of my life. Tears came to my eyes when I remembered some of things that happened.”

Plate, a bomber pilot, recently published an autobiography, “The Storm Clouds of War,” about his combat experience flying B-24 Liberators during the war.

Plate, who retired as a lieutenant colonel, flew 31 missions with the 489th Bomb Group’s 10-men crew over Germany and France from May 30 to Sept. 27, 1944.

Two of those missions were on D-Day, June 6, 1944, when their plane returned to England with 300-plus holes. It did not fly again.

Plate was wounded in an aircraft crash in October 1944 in England when returning from a mission delivering fuel to Gen. George Patton’s advancing army.

One of Plate’s memories of France was during a mission seeing the French citizens rush to the bomber when they unloaded supplies. The French greeted them with handshakes and hugs.

Plate had grown up as a farmer and at age 25 needing employment he enlisted in the Army Air Corps in 1942. He already had experience flying small civilian planes.

Plate got out of the service in August 1945. He returned in 1947 enlisting as an aircraft mechanic. He retired from the Air Force Reserves in 1971 after a 30-year career.

He and his wife, Helen, moved to Jacksonville in 2008 to be near family. They were together for 71 years until she passed away in 2011.

Plate was awarded many service medals, including the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Legion of Merit and the Purple Heart.

Moore, the honorary consul, said, “The French authorities decided to give the Legion of Honor to all Americans veterans who fought in at least one of the three major campaigns for the liberation of France. Today we must remember all the World War Two veterans and the unique comradery between French and American soldiers.”

“These veterans today were just 18 to 25 years old when the landed on Omaha Beach. They were just kids and most were farmers,” Moore said.

She said France is free because of their bravery and that France honors their sacrifice and remembers their comrades who died in battle.

“Today, more than ever, we need our two nations to stand together, because there is another war in front of us,” the honorary consul said.

First Dist. Rep. Rick Crawford (R-Ark.) and Second Dist. Rep. French Hill (R-Ark.)read the names of the honorees. Lt. Gov. Tim Griffin also attended.