Two residents of Watkins-Logan Texas State Veterans Home in Tyler received France's highest distinction - the medal of Knight in the French Order of the Legion of Honor - during a presentation Monday recognizing their contributions to the liberation of France during World War II.
Austeen V. "Chuck" Bice, 93, and Homer C. Garrett, 92, both World War II Army veterans, each softly said "thank you" when Sujiro Seam, the French Consul General in Houston, pinned the medal on their suit.
Speaking in French, Seam presented the medal in the name of the president of the French Republic. The recipients both served in the U.S. army from 1943 to 1945.
Family and friends of the honorees who were on hand for the presentation applauded.
The Legion of Honor ceremony began with the singing of the French and U.S. national anthems.
Throughout the ceremony, speakers referred to Bice and Garrett as heroes and noted there has been a longstanding alliance of the U.S. and France dating back to the American Revolution.
Before presenting the medals, the consul general recounted the contributions of the two veterans.
Garrett was deployed to England to prepare for the liberation of France. His landing craft struck an underwater mine and sank. Out of 201 soldiers and 145 sailors, over 200 lost their life. Garrett sustained multiple fractures and shrapnel wounds. He was rescued by lifeboat and spent many months recovering in various hospitals.
Bice and his comrades laid mines in France and built three bridges, including a pontoon and timber fixed bridges while dodging shells from the Nazis. His battalion built the first bridge of the war in Carentan, France, and is known for building the last bridge of the war outside Nuremberg, Germany.
U.S. Rep Louie Gohmert, R-Tyler, presented American flags that have flown over the U.S. Capitol to both veterans in honor of their contributions to the liberation of France and to the counsel general.
A certificate accompanying the flags given to Bice and Garrett recognized their "courageous and selfless service" to the U.S. as a member of the U.S. Army during World War II and expressed appreciation. It stated they made the world safer for democracy by serving in the armed forces.
Gohmert voiced gratefulness to France for providing the occasion for the ceremony.
"This is a day to honor two of our heroes," Gohmert said. "This is a big deal and we think our veterans are a big deal."
Rather than let evil prevail, Gohmert said, the people of America and the people of France have stood together for freedom, and men and women have sacrificed so that people have the freedoms they do today.
Gohmert quoted George Washington, who said had it not been for the help of France during the American Revolution, it is unlikely America would have ever secured its freedom from England in the 1700s.
France is back to honor Americans, Gohmert said of Bice and Garrett being awarded the medal of Knight in the French Legion.
John Berkely, deputy director, Texas State Veterans Homes Veterans Land Board, said Bice and Garrett are "true heroes."
A letter from U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, read aloud by Kathey Comer, his East Texas regional director, expressed admiration and appreciation to the medal recipients.
Cornyn extended gratitude for their "brave service during World War II and contribution to the liberation of France." He added, "I am humbled by the bravery you have shown and the sacrifices you have made to preserve our freedom."
Ken Wallingford, a former prisoner of war and senior adviser for the Veterans Land Board, said on behalf of Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush, that Bice and Garrett "gave something to protect each and every one of us and did what needed to be done. It's called the greatest generation that's ever served our country, and we thank God for military veterans that are still living. You sacrificed much, and we are blessed because of Chuck and Homer's service."
Mark Stevenson, administrator of the veterans home, said in closing remarks, "There is nothing greater for me as a young buck than to recognize two veterans for their contribution to World War II in the liberation of France. At a young age, they faced a determined enemy and did their jobs. Their courage and determination are what make this nation great. Our continued alliance with France in peacetime and war is symbolized here today in recognition of their efforts during World War II."