Local News

France honors local WW II veteran

SEBRING - World War II veteran Welton Mikell doesn't consider himself a hero, but apparently some people in France disagree. Mikell, who received notification this week that he was appointed a "Chevalier" of the Legion of Honor, downplayed the award, as well as the slew the medals he received for serving during a combined 10 years of services to his country during World War II and the Korean War. Those included two Bronze medals during the Korean War and one for good conduct. "It was something to do," he said, about serving in the U.S. Army. "You were supposed to do it and you did it." Until Friday, he never talked about his service with anyone, including his wife, whom he's been married to for 70 years, he said.
Rather than seeing himself as a hero, Mikell, who goes by the name of Mike, talked about meeting his obligations, both during wartime and in the ensuing decades to his wife and family. "I always put food on the table," he said. But France sees the soldier who served during the Battle of the Rhineland, the liberation of Normandy and the liberation of northern France, in a different light. A letter that Mikell received in June from the France's ambassador to the United States, Francois Delatre, said the "Chevalier" award "testifies to President Hollande's high esteem for your merits and accomplishments. In particular, it is a sign of France's infinite gratitude and appreciation for your personal and precious contribution to the United States' decisive role in the liberation of our country during World War II. The Legion of Honor was created by Napoleon in 1802 to acknowledge the services rendered to France by persons of exceptional merit. The French people will never forget your courage and your devotion to the great cause of freedom." A document sent along with the letter states that only a recipient can wear the Legion of Honor medal and that it can only be bestowed by a French official or a French member of the Order of the Legion of Honor. Although Mikell doesn't see himself as a hero, he said, he was pleased to be notified of the award. "It was an honor," he said. Mikell recalled that serving overseas did result in some personal sacrifices. In the days when a web cam was still decades in the future, Mikell said, "My son was 2 1/2 years old before I ever saw him." During the time he served, he said, he did automotive repairs, ordinance repairs, which among other things helped Gen. George Patton. He recalled at one point he and his unit entered one French city where the Germans had destroyed the town and "the only thing standing was a church." When a German sniper started shooting at them from the steeple, they had no choice but to knock it over, he said. Mikell said one of the most dangerous moments he faced was when he was cleaning a machine gun when suddenly, a German airplane emerged from the clouds and was coming "right at me." But, he said, he was not attacked. "He (the German pilot) was probably taking photographs." Mikell said that at one point during World War II he was sent to England and got to take a cruise on the Queen Mary. He was a pilot, he said, and he did some reconnaisance work during the Korean War. During one trip, his airplane hit a cable, which caused significant damage. "I don't know why the airplane stayed in the air," he said, but noted that if the positioning was different the cable could have decapitated him. jmeisel@highlandstoday.com (863) 386-5834.