PALESTINE — Most people have no idea what the inside of a Consolidated B-24 Liberator looks like, much less how to fire from it, or where the K-rations are stored.
Local veteran Harold Dietz is not among those people.
The fourth generation Palestine resident served as a gunner on the aircraft during World War II, surviving 26 missions over Germany as a member of the Eighth Air Force.
Today, the 88-year-old war veteran still can recall detailed episodes of hours spent engaging in air-to-air combat, as well as when his squadron reigned fire down on enemy targets of the Axis powers.
But Dietz isn't the only one who remembers.
Fast forward to today, the 70th anniversary of D-Day, and the Palestine resident will be honored publicly by the French government for his services, which played a significant part in the liberation of a twentieth century war-torn France.
Dietz was informed of the honor in a letter from the French consulate in April.
“You have been awarded the medal of Knight in the French Order of the Legion of Honor,” the letter states, “in recognition of your contribution to the liberation of France during World War II.”
Thursday, Dietz rode down with friends and family to La Porte, Texas, to attend the ceremony where Sujiro Seam, Consul General of France, will present the medal. The event will take place this morning aboard the USS Texas, stationed in La Porte, in the presence of other veterans and government officials.
According to Dietz, France was nearly crushed under German forces during WWII, before United States forces — made up of boys like his 18-year-old self — got involved.
Far from home
Drafted over Christmas of 1943, Dietz attended basic training in Gulfport, Mississippi, through the spring before being shipped to Westover Air Force Base in the Massachusetts communities of Chicopee and Ludlow.