MACHIAS — Douglas Whipple, 96, says he can’t remember much of the war.
But as he talks, the memories surface.
Whipple was an Army sergeant on the front lines of World War II in France and Germany. He was awarded the Bronze Star for heroic service as an artillery forward observer — his job was to spot enemy fire and warn the rest of his battalion. His keen eyesight once saved his twin brother, Don, whose squadron had been cornered by German troops.
He fought near the rivers of Germany and in the hedgerows of France.
On Sunday, the French government thanked Whipple for his service. He was named a Chevalier in the Légion d’honneur, or the French Legion of Honor.
The Embassy of France honors U.S. veterans who fought to protect France in World Wars I and II by making them Chevaliers, or knights, in the nation’s Legion of Honor. Napoleon Bonaparte established the legion in 1802. U.S. veterans can become members by applying through their state’s French consulate.
Last year, Douglas’ son Robert got a package in the mail from a family friend. It was for his father and included a copy of a newsletter with instructions on how to apply for the legion.
“You would be most deserving,” the friend wrote.
Robert applied on his father’s behalf. He didn’t tell his father what he was up to until he had set up an award ceremony in Lake Stevens with the help of American Legion Post 181.
Douglas Whipple is humble, but his family felt he deserved the recognition.
He served in the U.S. Army from 1941 to 1945 and can trace his path across Europe on a map, pointing out locations where comrades were lost or saved.
“That was a lot of close fighting,” he said, pointing to Saint-Lo in France.
Then there was Mortain, where his battalion helped English and Canadian soldiers push back German troops. He crossed the Rhine River on a pontoon bridge and trekked through Germany. His battalion ended up just outside of Berlin.
“That’s when the war with Germany ended,” Whipple said. “We were on the Elbe River within sight of Berlin.”
He spent some time in a little town in Germany before heading back to the cigarette camps in France. He was to be shipped to Japan next.
“Before we loaded up to head across the ocean, (President) Truman dropped the bomb and that ended the war in Japan,” Whipple said. “We were all ready to board ships, so they just sent us home.”
He took a boat from France to England. The English cooks had prepared a bunch of pies for the troops, who all got too seasick to eat them.
Then the Queen Mary ocean liner carried Whipple back to the U.S.
He mined, farmed and got married in Montana before moving his family to Washington, where he’d grown up. He started working as a carpenter. Audrey, his wife, was a librarian and a World War II veteran of the Canadian Air Force.
Two of Whipple’s grandsons also have served in the military. He shares stories with them. Daughter-in-law Patti said he tends to talk about the war most when he’s with the boys.
“Well, one thing reminds you of another,” Whipple said.
Four generations of the Whipple family attended Sunday’s event, which required months of planning to make sure family and friends could attend, Robert said.
Whipple didn’t know about the Legion of Honor designation until his family surprised him over dinner earlier this summer.
“He was pretty proud,” Robert said.
“He won’t admit it, though,” said Patti, Robert’s wife.
Douglas Whipple looked between his son and daughter-in-law.
“I was honored,” he said.
Kari Bray: 425-339-3439; firstname.lastname@example.org