World War I veteran to get French honor

July 11, 1999|By Melody Simmons | Melody Simmons,SUN STAFF

His eyes still light up when he talks about the war -- even after 80 years. And later this month, 105-year-old Paul W. Englar's gritty memories as a doughboy will come full circle.

The Carroll County resident has been named a Chevalier of the National Order of the Legion of Honor by the French government. He's one of 600 living American veterans of World War I who fought in France and are being honored as part of last year's 80th anniversary of the Armistice, French officials said.

Recognition for his role as a Morse code radio operator in the trenches against German troops will take place July 23 in a ceremony at Carroll Lutheran Village outside Westminster, where Englar lives. Before local and state dignitaries, he will receive the five-star medal bearing two intertwined French flags from Alain de Keghel, France's consul general.

He was informed of the honor in mid-June in a letter from French Ambassador Francois Bujon de l'Estang that said, "This distinction is France's highest national award. It is conferred on you by the French government as a sign of the highest esteem my country has for you who personally contributed to the decisive support the United States gave to French soldiers in the defense of their country during World War I."

The distinction surprised him greatly, he said.

"This is something I never expected," he admitted, telling vivid stories of how he, a Westminster High School graduate turned soldier, landed in Brest, France, in 1918.

Among the oldest residents of Maryland today, Englar is the last soldier in the mid-Atlantic region to receive the Chevalier, de Keghel said. In January, George Manns, a 102-year-old Baltimore resident was given the medal followed by Herbert W. Bowen, 100, in February.

French President Jacques Chirac initiated the effort to award the Chevalier medals -- established by Napoleon in 1802 -- last year to World War I veterans who had served on French soil before Nov. 11, 1918.

Veterans were located by combing local records and through officials at the federal Department of Veterans Affairs. De Keghel said the campaign will conclude this month.

"I feel very moved because we do not forget 80 years later that without their help, I may not be born free," de Keghel said. "It is very impressive. Many of them were young boys at the time. The Chevalier is the highest French award. Somebody bearing this medal will be always highly respected."

Englar was trained as a radio operator in Limoges and then was sent to the front, where he received Morse code signals from pilots overhead and routed the information into artillery for ground strikes against the Germans.

Years later, he served in World War II, patrolling the Canton waterfront on the lookout for German submarines.

He also worked at the old Fidelity Trust bank in Baltimore, now NationsBank, and for 19 years served as a ticket taker for the Orioles at Memorial Stadium.

Dorothy Scott, 75, Englar's daughter who also lives at Carroll Lutheran Village, said the family plans to frame the Chevalier along with other war mementos for Englar's great-grandson.

Of the upcoming honor, she said: "This points out how important it was what he did. He has gotten several other medals; why did it take so long?"

Pub Date: 7/10/99

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