World War II Army Air Force veteran Al Lochra, 94, is a founding member of the Steve Millikin Black Cap Veterans Group and one of the men behind the Guilford County Veterans Memorial at Country Park.
He was one of the first teachers at Page High School, director of vocational education and industrial arts for Greensboro City Schools and a longtime GTCC employee.
Now he can add knight to his resume.
Lochra will receive the French Legion of Honor chevalier (knight) award Thursday during a ceremony at his church, First Lutheran Church in Greensboro.
Paul Prewitt, a 99-year-old World War II veteran from Eden, will also receive the French Legion of Honor award in a ceremony Thursday in Rockingham County.
The medal, which has been awarded since the days of Napoleon Bonaparte, is usually given to French citizens but is also bestowed on American and British service members who fought for France’s freedom during World War II.
Lochra, a radio operator and gunner on a B-17 during the war, isn’t sure what qualified him for the honor, but he has an idea.
“We did do something for them (the French) just prior to the end of the war,” he recalled.
Lochra’s 100th Bombardment Group flew hundreds of French slave laborers back home to France from an airfield in Linz, Austria. They had been forced by the Germans to work in factories and fields.
They weren’t emaciated, but “they looked like they could have used a meal or two,” Lochra said.
About 10 clusters of people were standing on the airfield when the 100th Bombardment Group arrived. Each plane, with a crew of five, flew to a group and transported 30 to 35 people to their homeland, he said.
The group on Lochra’s plane was all men. “I don’t know if there were any women on the other planes, but there were no women on our plane,” he said.
Lochra said he didn’t speak French, and the passengers didn’t speak English.
“We communicated by hand signals and pointing,” he said. “They understood what we were doing, and we understood how they were feeling.”
The passengers were taken to Chartres, France, southwest of Paris and home to the Notre Dame Cathedral.
“They were one batch of happy Frenchmen,” Lochra said.
“That was one of my best flights ever,” he said.
Some flights were far more dangerous.
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“We lost an engine on our second mission, and the ship started shaking like crazy,” Lochra told News & Record veterans columnist Harry Thetford in 2018. “We completed the mission but force-landed at the first strip we came to after crossing the North Sea. By then, only one engine was working.”
Other non-combat missions included flying U.S. casualties to Casablanca on their way home and dropping food and supplies to flood survivors in Holland.
Lochra has been working on his World War II memoir since before 2005, he said, and it will be complete after a few corrections.
“I carry it with me when I think I might need it,” he says. He’ll have it with him when he gets his award, just in case, he said.
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