Lee Brown could hardly contain his excitement as he walked in to the Cranbrook branch of the Royal Canadian Legion.
“War is not a pleasant thing but I made it and people are treating me like royalty now,” said the 90-year old Second World War veteran, right before he received France’s highest award.
“It’s a big deal and well deserved,” Brown’s son-in-law Grant Stuart said.
Brown joined the military at 17 in 1943.
Based in England as a tail gunner in a Lancaster bomber during the Second World War, he flew 33 missions with the Canadian Air Force over France and Germany.
But it’s the one Brown missed, he’ll never forget.
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“My crew was shot down and I lost them,” Brown said.
On Saturday, Brown was presented with the highest French order for military and civil merits, at a ceremony at his local legion.
He is one of the more than 1000 Canadian Second World War veterans who are finally receiving the Legion of Honour after the French government decided to bestow the award on all living veterans who helped liberate France in 1944.
“They put their life at risk. Many died to save our freedom. We never forget what they did,” Antoine Mention, the Deputy Consul of France in Vancouver, said.
Having Brown officially named to the national order of the Legion of Honour involved a lengthy application process that allowed his family to unearth some of his war stories – and better understand his past.
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“I think he’s like many that just didn’t share what they did and this has given him the chance and freedom and comfort to share,” Brown’s daughter Cynthia Stuart said.
Brown was moved that the French consulate delivered the honour in person, “I’ve never felt like this in years.”
After losing his buddies in a 1944 airfight, Brown joined another bomber crew for the remainder of the war. More than 70 years later, the memories are still fresh.
“I believe now I’m the only one left,” he said. “Every day something goes through your mind. You can’t help it, even when you wake up in the morning…I know we did our job and lived and that’s it.”