France honors WW II vet: 'I was just doing my duty'

Shawn D. Lewis
The Detroit News
French Consulate Guillaume Lacroix presents U.S. Army Veteran Bernard Wojnowski, 93, with the French Legion of Honor medal for his service in the liberation of France during World War II. The honor was bestowed on Wojnowski, who served in the U.S. Army's Fifth Armored Division, during a ceremony at the Romeo VFW Hall in Bruce Township, Michigan on Monday.

Bruce Township — Bernard Wojnowski still carries three pieces of shrapnel in his head.

“Do you want to see it?” he asks, removing his cap and bending his head to show the marks on his scalp.

The shrapnel was “a souvenir,” as he calls it, from his service in Europe beginning in 1943, as a decorated World War II veteran in the U.S. Army's 5th Armored Division, which participated in the liberation of France from Nazi Germany.

“I also was injured in my back, and all these years later, it still bothers me sometimes,” Wojnowski said.

To celebrate Wojnowski for his service, he was presented the Legion of Honor, France's highest decoration, established in 1802 by Napoleon Bonaparte.

At 93, Wojnowski, who lives in Ray Township, is the longest-serving member of a VFW honor guard in Bruce Township that recognizes deceased veterans.

Consul General Guillaume Lacroix flew in from the Consulate General of France in Chicago to present the medal at the Striber McVicar VFW Post in Bruce Township.

"I have to extend a message of gratitude from the French president, who decides whom to award this very special recognition," said Lacroix. "The Legion of Honor is the highest recognition that can be bestowed, military or civilian, and is equal to the Medal of Honor in this country."

The Legion of Honor, the highest French honor for military service, adorns the dress shirt of U.S. Army Veteran Bernard Wojnowski, 93,  who served in the U.S. Army's Fifth Armored Division.

He continued, "I was assigned to come here to say thank you. Thank you to the American people for all you did for us in World War II. The French people will never forget."

Another veteran and VFW member, Claude Wood, died a few weeks ago at 99, and was awarded the Legion of Honor posthumously.

Wojnowski, who said he earned a Purple Heart, two Bronze stars and a combat medal, tried to deflect all of the attention.

 "I'm deeply honored and flabbergasted," he said. "I was just doing what I was asked to do -- doing something for my country."

He continued, "I was born in this country and my parents were born here. I'm an American and I was just doing my duty."

His daughter, Karen Madden, who planned the program and provided the celebration luncheon, smiled as she watched all the guests crowding around her father.

"It's an honor to have my dad here," she said. "We never heard about what he did in the war. He didn't tell us. But he never complained. He just went to war."

Among the other veterans present to honor Wojnowski was his friend F. Scott Metcalf, 68, an Air Force retiree who served in Vietnam and is commander of the Macomb County Ritual Team.

"What an honor, and it's so deserving," he said. "I'm just sorry that it took so long."

Metcalf continued, "They went over there and freed the country and left. He was part of that. When he came back, he helped found and build VFW Post 203 in Berville, Michigan, which no longer exists."

Following the congratulations and handshakes, Wojnowski took the microphone to say a blessing before the luncheon.

"Attention," he said. "I want to say a short blessing. Almighty, bless the people who will partake of this meal, and thank you for coming. Amen."