World War II veteran Jesse A. “Jack” Reese of Dover, Ohio, was presented the French Legion of Honor Monday by the French consul general in Chicago, who called Reese “a true American hero.”
“He’s an American hero, but he’s a French hero because without him, without his companions — without these great men and women — my country would not exist,” said Guillaume Lacroix in presenting the medal at a ceremony at the St. Joseph Family Life Center in Dover. “You saved us from the Nazis, not the Germans. The Germans are our friends now. But you saved us from the Nazis, who wanted to destroy our country, destroy our values, destroy our families. And without the assistance of America, the French flag would not be flying.”
Reese was a tail gunner in a B-17 bomber which completed 35 missions over Europe during the war. He entered the service at age 18.
Lacroix added, “It is a great honor for me as a grandson of a World War II veteran of France to be here with you and being the one who on behalf of the French Republic, will pin the Legion of Honor, which is the highest ranking distinction in France.”
The French Legion of Honor was created by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1802, and is given out to people who have carried out actions of great value.
“I’m accepting this honor that the president of France has bestowed on me, and I’m accepting it for myself and for the entire crew of what we called Ole Skatterflak,” Reese said. “There’s only two of us left. We had a nine-man crew, and worked as a crew because that’s how we were able to complete 35 missions.”
Reese, a former teacher in Dover City Schools, received numerous other honors at the ceremony Monday, including proclamations from the Tuscarawas County commissioners, Dover Mayor Richard Homrighausen, state Sen. Jay Hottinger, R-Newark, and state Rep. Al Landis, R-Dover.
“I didn’t know he was a hero back in 1973 when he was my homeroom teacher,” Landis said. “He would come over, and he’d sit on the edge of the desk and we’d talk sports. He never mentioned it. I never knew. A few years later, I would see him at Buehler’s representing the military, selling flags and pins and raising funds for veterans. I knew he was a hero at that point because he was a veteran. He was such a great servant to the city of Dover, to the schools, to the state and now to France. I think that’s just so wonderful.”
Reese was drafted in 1943 while he was a junior at Alliance High School in Stark County. After basic training, he was shipped overseas, landing in England on June 30, 1944. He became a member of the 337th Bomb Squadron of the 96th Bomb Group and went on his first mission on Aug. 6.
On his plane’s last mission on Dec. 31, 1944, Ole Skatterflak came under repeated attack as it returned home from a raid on Germany. Four members of the crew had been wounded during the raid, but the two remaining gunners, including Reese, maintained their positions and fought off the attacks on the vulnerable aircraft, which lacked fighter support.
For his actions that day, Reese was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, though he didn’t receive it until 2015 because of a bureaucratic mistake.
Lacroix told those in attendance at the ceremony that France would always be grateful for the help that America provided his country during World War I and World War II.
He told Reese,” You are really a true American hero, and France is grateful. France will never forget.”
© 2017 The Times-Reporter, New Philadelphia, Ohio
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