HOUSTON (Jan. 23, 2012) -- A group of American World War II combat veterans from Texas and the surrounding region will be presented with one of France's highest decorations in a public ceremony to be conducted here Feb. 1.
The event will be held at 1:30 p.m. at Ellington Field Joint Reserve Base, a military and homeland security compound co-located with Ellington Airport, approximately 20 miles south of the city's center.
The decoration, the Legion of Honour, was established to recognize extreme merit by French citizens in either military or civilian life. However, the publicly incorporated body that regulates the award authorizes its presentation to select foreign nationals who have served France, including some allied combat veterans who fought on French soil.
The U.S. veterans participating in this ceremony are assembling here from across the multi-state region served by the French consulate in Houston: Texas, Oklahoma and Arkansas. Between six and fifteen World War II veterans are expected to participate, including one or more service members who participated in the D-Day invasion of France.
While the consulate is presenting the decorations and conducting the ceremony, several military units at Ellington Field, including the Army Reserve's 75th Training Command, are working together to host the event there. Robert Samborski is a full-time civilian employee with the 75th. He also serves in the unit as a reserve officer.
Samborski says there is a reason for the uncertainty about exactly which former service members will participate. "Our World War II vets are a national treasure. Sadly, many are in fragile health due to their age. The consulate is working closely with the families to help as many as possible be there to receive this honor. But on that day, we will celebrate the service of all of the recipients, regardless of whether they are able to attend in person."
Among the recipients expected to participate is Johanna Butte. Butte served as an American nurse during combat operations in France. While other female World War II veterans have received the Legion of Honour, the consulate here says it is not common.
"In our region, this will be the first American female World War II recipient in at least a decade and a half," says Veronique Lhemann, press attaché for the diplomatic office.
Lhemann also says this will be one of the largest presentations they have conducted in many years. "In this part of the country, we are lucky to be able to recognize American World War II veterans one or two at a time. To thank a half dozen or more in one place and at one time…that will be a special honor for all involved."
There is no precise American equivalent for the National Order of the Legion of Honour, as it is known in its full form. However, it is the highest decoration for a French citizen, whether military or civilian. Therefore, it shares some characteristics with two U.S. decorations: the Medal of Honor, the highest decoration for military actions; and the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest decoration for civilian contributions. It has also been compared to the Defense Distinguished Service Medal.
IF YOU GO
WHO: Members of the public
WHAT: Invited to attend ceremony recognizing 6-15 WWII vets from the region
WHEN: Friday, Feb. 1 -- 1:30 p.m.
WHERE: Ellington Field Joint Reserve Base, part of the Ellington Airport complex
ACCESS: Enter the airport grounds at the intersection of State Highway 3 and Dixie Farm Rd/Challenger 7 Parkway (12221 Challenger 7 Parkway, Houston, TX 77034). Traffic will be guided to the Ellington Field JRB main gate.
Access to EFJRB is normally restricted to base employees and others with government identification. However, on the afternoon the ceremony, members of the public wishing to attend the ceremony will be able to show any valid photo ID to pass through the main gate. Visitors will then be guided to a parking lot near the building where the event will be held. The building where the ceremony is being conducted is handicapped accessible.
TIMING: The ceremony will begin promptly at 1:30 p.m. Base personnel encourage anyone wishing to attend to allow enough time to get onto base, park and to walk to the ceremony site.
MORE INFO: 832-324-5458 or www.facebook.com/jrbhouston