France honors Oregon World War II veterans
by Julie Sullivan, The Oregonian, Friday July 10, 2009, 8:15 PM.
Mark Reynolds was thumbing through an Army history a few years ago when he discovered that his dad, an effervescent middle school principal and coach in Lake Oswego, had been a superb battlefield commander.
Dale Reynolds never talked about the hand-to-hand fighting across France in World War II, the blood-soaked Battle of the Bulge or driving the Germans to the Siegfried Line. He almost never spoke of being wounded twice or the strategies that saved his men.
But on Friday, France itself spoke.
|Thank You from France|
The French Consul General awarded Reynolds, 88, and two other Oregonians that nation’s highest award, the Légion d’Honneur.
Also decorated was William Tankersley, 84, a retired Curry County juvenile court director, who, that long winter, fell as Reynolds did, shot through both arms — wounded for the third time.
Honored too, was B-24 pilot George R. Insley, 87, a missionary bush pilot from Roseburg who flew 53 bombing missions, twice as many as most pilots.
The French Consul General Pierre-François Mourier declared each a "chevalier" or knight of the Légion as he pinned the red ribbons and gold and white medals on their chests in an afternoon ceremony at the Portland Art Museum.
"As young men you left your country, your family and friends to risk your lives," he said. France "will never forget."
The ceremony ushered the men into a club with Alexander Graham Bell, J.K. Rowling and Olympic gold medalists. But there has always been an attempt to include Allied soldiers who freed France after years of war and occupation. As veterans have aged, military units have nominated them for recognition before it is too late.
"Vive la France !" William Tankersley remembers the villagers calling out in 1945, "Vive l’Amérique !."
Tankersley, who drove from Gold Beach with his wife, Shirley, and grandson, Nicholas, walked slowly to the ceremony, his feet permanently damaged from being frozen that last winter.
The son of a homesteader outside Roseburg, Tankersley had landed with the U.S. Army’s 90th Infantry Division at Utah Beach on June 7, 1944, and fought across northern France, Belgium and Luxembourg. He was wounded twice and returned to battle twice, serving under Gen. George Patton. Then in January, 1945, during the Ardennes battle, a machine gun bullet tore through his left arm, severing the nerve. As he lay in the snow, he was hit by a mortar round and was paralyzed in his other arm. A nurse later told him he had 16 separate wounds.
He spent more than a year in Army hospitals. After the war, he went onto serve as the Myrtle Point Police Chief and a Curry County juvenile court director. His four daughters looked on Friday.
Just down the road from Tankersley’s boyhood home, George Insley lives in the Roseburg house where he was born. He had joined the air service along with two brothers.
Beginning in September 1943, Capt. Insley took part in all the 44th Bomb Group’s B-24 bomber campaigns from Italy to the invasion of Germany. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross three times and the Air Medal nine times. Only one of his crew was ever wounded.
Around Christmastime, 1943, he and "The Flying Eight-Balls" were slated to fly to Berlin into an icy rain. "When I saw that target, my heart melted," he said Friday. "I went outside and said, ’Lord, I need a little more help.’ " The mission was cancelled, but his conversion as a Christian was complete. He spent decades as a bush pilot in South America for Wycliffe Bible Translators International "being of service."
He met his wife, Jeanne, in Peru, where they raised their three children before returning to Roseburg in the 1980s.
A fourth Oregon veteran, Donald Malarkey, of Salem, will also receive the award, but he was out of the country for Friday’s ceremony.
For the Reynolds family, the discovery of their charismatic father’s heroic past was a thrill.
Dale Reynolds was in a ROTC program at the University of Idaho before he reached France in 1944.
With the Army’s 94th Infantry Division, he fought in Lorient, Nantes and Saint-Nazaire with the responsibility for capturing the better armed and fortified Germans, about 56,000 of them along a line 200 miles long. He was wounded at Ardennes, returned to the front, and was wounded a second time in February, 1945. His right arm was shattered, a disability that was obvious as he grasped the French Consul General’s hand.
"No," he admits, "I never talked, about it. You just take it as it comes and, in most cases, you were just trying to keep yourself safe and your buddy safe."
He told the assembly, including his two sons and their extended families, that he was humbled to realize how many men had been lost. "You don’t lose ground, you keep going."
After the war ended, he didn’t go to reunions, didn’t look back.
"When you teach school and coach, you have a lot to think about, a lot to do. You look at young people, and it makes you feel good.
"I concentrated on the future. And that helped a great deal."
Julie Sullivan: 503-221-8068; firstname.lastname@example.org