Perry Kerr, 88, was able to go. Both he and Carl Matthijetz received invitations, although Kerr said Monday that as far as he knew, Matthijetz, who is 97 years old, was unable to attend. Matthijetz could not immediately be located to contact about the medal.
Kerr was one of the famous “flyboys”—a group of pilots, navigators, bombardiers, gunners and radio operators—who risked life and limb to attack German defenses and strategic targets. Kerr flew 11 missions as a nose turret gunner, including one over Vaux-Sur-Mer.
Matthijetz was a tail gunner on the B-17 “HOTNUTS” flown by Sheldon I. Vernon on 30 combat missions over occupied Europe.
Matthijetz participated in the first daylight raid over Berlin.
The city of Three Rivers issued a special memo to the public pointing out the two men had been selected for recognition in honor of their service.
Each of the 36 veterans who attended this emotional ceremony in LaPorte were presented with the Medal of Chevalier in the French Order of the Legion of Honor.
The highest honor the French government could award, the medal was in recognition of their service to their country and their sacrifices to help liberate France from Nazi Germany seven decades ago.
Each of the veterans also was given a second medal containing grains of sand from Normandy Beach.
Kerr said each of his missions was hazardous and tinged with the possibility of defeat and death.
“The Germans tried to kill us every time we went up,” Kerry said. “The medal is only given to those of us still living. They don’t give it posthumously. You have to be alive to get it. All my crew are gone, every last one of them. I am the only one left.”
Kerr said the ceremony brought back a lot of memories.
“It kind of made you teary-eyed,” he said. “When you consider what we did and what we saw ... I was a pretty young guy when I flew these missions.”
Kerr’s courageous efforts in the war were recapped in great detail in a previous story in The Progress:
The drone of the B-24’s four engines – somewhere in the neighborhood of 118 decibels – the freezing cold – sometimes 40 below zero – the altitude between 22,000 to 25,000 feet and the aborted mission all weighed on Perry Kerr’s mind.
He lay in the nose turret of his B-24 Liberator, his twin .50-caliber machine guns in front of him, a confined space in which he had to have help getting out.
Kerr didn’t realize that the 11th mission of his bomber group was his last or that the B-24 just behind his was shot down by Nazi 88mm antiaircraft artillery.
“That bomber was the ‘Black Cat.’ It had a big panther painted on its nose,” Kerr said.
Kerr’s bomber group had been assigned to bomb Salzburg, Germany, close to Munich.
“The weather had us stopped there. They told us to bring all the bombs back to England,” he said.
The B-24 carried eight 1,000-pound bombs. With that much weight, the aircraft can attain a speed of 170 mph. If Kerr’s bomber had dropped the bombs, it could have reached speeds up to 250 mph.
Despite scrapping the mission, at least Kerr’s 787th Bomb Squadron of the 466th Bomber Group was credited for the mission.
Once before, Kerr was on a bombing mission to Tirstrop, Denmark, and the weather turned his squadron back, but his group did not get credit that time.
His 11th and last mission aboard his B-24, dubbed Earthquake McGoon after an Al Capp cartoon, made it back to Attlebridge Airfield in England.
The nose art on his B-24 featured Earthquake McGoon and Daisy Mae.
That was April 22, 1945.
“After we landed, we went back to the barracks at about 4 or 5 p.m. We needed to lie down and rest a bit,” he said.
Kerr’s missions ranged in duration from five to 10 hours.
But Kerr was not to fly anymore missions. The Germans surrendered and Victory in Europe Day was proclaimed on May 8.