My apologies - I'm experiencing camera difficulties and, currently, am unable to download photos. Please do read this post; the information is, more than, worthy of your time.
Like the Good Book says, "for those with eyes to see and ears to hear"...heros are all around us. Oh, I know, in this day and age certain words are, dreadfully, over-used. Awesome, create, hero are a few.
Yesterday I drove in one of the worst snowstorms of this winter to attend the wake of my friend's step-father. Mary Lois and I have been friends for almost thirty years and yesterday's journey, while not a test of that friendship, was certainly a testimony to it. It dawned on me about halfway to Roanoke, not many people would have driven in the storm; they would have used it as an excuse. That's okay too. It was a good excuse but couldn't trump friendship. And, had I not gone, I would have missed a wonderful opportunity to shake a hero's hand and touch history.
The wake was for Ted Carroll, one of the most interesting men you'd ever want to meet, but then, a good many men of his generation are truly interesting. Yet you'd never know it because they are also some of the most humble men you'd ever meet. Gentlemen of the old school and we're losing them at a rate of about three hundred per day. Soon, they will all be gone and we'll be left with only memories.
Ted's parents, in early 1920, moved to Bozeman, Montana under the Homestead act...how cool is that?! It's where Ted and his sister were born and where they spent their childhood. Ted worked on their 9,000 acre ranch and was an expert horseman and skier and it's a safe guess he was a pretty good cow wrangler as well. He also drove a stage coach between Ennis, Montana and Virginia City!
He was an Army Air Corps pilot, flying his B-17 Heavy Bomber out of Deenethorpe, England on 29 missions. After flying three more missions than required in his B-17, he flew several assignments in a P-51.
My information is from speaking to his family and from his obituary and if there are any errors, they are mine alone. This was taken directly from Ted's obit and, pretty much, says it all, "The best description of Ted's life was written on his first grade report card at Pass Creek School. "A dear good boy, doing better every day."
One of Ted's fighter pilot buddies came to the wake. He was using a walker but drove himself, was frail but stood tall, was quiet yet radiated strength. Mr. Bill Overstreet is a bona fide hero of World War II. He flew a P51C he named the "Berlin Express" and was in the 357th Fighter Group. He has many, fascinating stories he tells of both war and peace time; read about them here and see his plane here.
Last year, in December, Mr. Overstreet, originally from Clifton Forge, VA, was in Bedford, VA at the WWII National D-Day Memorial. He was there to meet with French Ambassador Pierre Vimont where Ambassador Vimont presented Bill Overstreet with the French Legion of Honor medal. Napoleon Bonaparte established the French Legion of Honor in 1802 and it's the highest decoration given in France. It's divided into five degrees, the highest being Chevalier or Knight and it was this Ambassador Vimont presented to Captain Overstreet. The medal cannot be given posthumously, or after death, and Mr. Overstreet was too frail to travel to France so France came to Mr. Overstreet by way of Bedford. The Roanoke Star-Sentinel and the Roanoke Times articles give more information and photos.
Ambassador Vimont presented The Legion of Honor to "a true hero, a legend indeed". Captain Overstreet flew more than 100 missions, was shot down three times, captured once and escaped but those are only the highlights. The most well known of Captain Overstreet's pilot exploits was when he flew his P51C Mustang, following a German ME109G Messerschmitt through the skies of Paris. Literally. The German pilot, in trying to escape a persistent Captain Overstreet, flew underneath the Eiffel Tower! Captain Overstreet followed and the likeness is captured in The Berlin Express Arrives in Paris; the painting is signed by Captain Overstreet.
Mr. Overstreet, in true humbleness accepted the award on behalf of his fallen comrades, those who didn't come home but gave their lives so he and others could come home.
It was an opportunity of a lifetime, to meet this man, to shake his hand, to say "thank you for serving". What an absolute gift and blessing in my life to have both the opportunity and, now, the memory. When Mr. Overstreet received his medal, Virginia Governor Kaine sent a letter as did Senator Warner and Congressmen Perriello and Goodlatte and while that was nice, it was certainly the least any of them could do. They missed the opportunity of a lifetime and I'm sorry for them. I'm sorry they didn't realize the significance and importance of the event and chose to rearrange their terribly important schedules. I'm sorry they choose not to personally honor and shake the hand of a living legend when he received the highest honor France has to give. We don't have many living legends left.
Until next time,
Blessings ~ Captain William J. Overstreet, Jr. ~ heros ~ living legends ~ legends ~ French Legion of Honor ~