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Minnesota farmer awarded French Legion of Honor

A well-wisher examined the Legion of Honor medal after he congratulated Boyd W. Sorenson, who served as a P-47 fighter pilot over France during World War II. (TNS/Released)

Boyd Sorenson flew 89 combat missions in Europe during World War II, escorting heaving bombers and attacking enemy installations and troop concentrations.

“We weren’t heroes,” said Sorenson, 96, who now lives in Waite Park. “We were doing our jobs.”

His bravery was rewarded Monday when he received the French Legion of Honor, France’s highest distinction. He was honored shortly after the 75th anniversary of the D-Day Landings and the Battle of Normandy.

In describing himself, Sorenson told Consul General of France to the Midwest region, Guillaume LaCroix, that he wasn’t great at one thing, but good at a lot of things. Besides LaCroix, St. Cloud Mayor Dave Kleis and a representative from Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s office were at the presentation. More than 100 people attended.

For his service in France and in Europe during World War II, Sorenson had already been awarded the European African Middle Eastern Medal with Three Bronze Stars, the Air Medal with Three Oak Leaf Clusters, the Distinguished Flying Cross with Two Oak Leaf Clusters, and the Canadian Operational Service Medal with Maple Leaf Cluster.

He also flew 72 missions in the United States Air Force during the Korean War.

Sorenson grew up on a farm in Pipestone, Minn. He played football at Mankato State University before moving to California. A co-worker who was a stuntman suggested he learn to fly in Canada, so he went and enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force before Pearl Harbor.

He was deployed to England in 1942 and was assigned to serve in Burma, an idea he didn’t like, said LaCroix, who recounted Sorenson’s life history at the ceremony. So he transferred to the U.S. Air Force as a fighter pilot and became part of the 78 Fighter Group of the Mighty 8th Air Force.

In spring of 1944, Sorenson destroyed an enemy fighter while on a bomber mission during the battle for the French city of Metz. At nearly zero visibility and at low altitude, he demolished planes on the ground at Reims-Châlons airfield, said LaCroix.

From an air base in England, he took part in the preparations for D-Day. He provided air coverage for Allied troops during the landing. He was discharged in August 1945.

After the war, he married, had five children and owned an air service business in Pipestone. In the early 1950s, he joined the Minnesota National Guard and later served in the Korean War. He ended his career as a captain.

LaCroix said Sorenson still lives independently and is known to be curious, adventurous and congenial, with a quirky sense of humor and a twinkle in his eye.

Sorenson, a very humble man, was uncomfortable with all the attention he received Monday. But LaCroix and military veterans lavished praise on him.

“The French people didn’t see D-Day and Normandy as an invasion, but as a liberation,” said LaCroix. “The French people of my generation, the generation of my children and their children will take care of the graves of those who died.”


© 2019 the Star Tribune (Minneapolis)

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.