Arkansas World War II vet receives French Legion of Honor

© Times-Herald of Forrest City

LITTLE ROCK (Times-Herald) - As he approaches his 95th birthday in September, Forrest Citian Charles Lawson has a lot of memories. Among the most vivid are memories of World War II - the North African Campaign, Sicily, the Normandy Invasion and the Battle of the Bulge.

On Thursday, he received a more recent memory, when he was awarded France's highest honor - the Légion d'honneur, or Legion of Honor - for fighting for the liberation of France.

Lawson remembers that by the time his part in the liberation of France came along, he and his comrades were already seasoned combat veterans. He served in the First Infantry Division (also known as the Big Red One), 18th Regiment, Company F. They had seen action in North Africa and Sicily.

"Then we went to England, and trained for the invasion of France," said Lawson.

That came with D-Day on June 6, 1944. Lawson was in the first wave to hit Omaha Beach.

"The boat I was in was one of 20-something that didn't get sunk," he said. "We went inland. We had to go up on top of the beach where there was a bluff, and we had to fight them out of there. And then we went into what they called the hedgerows. We fought them there for a couple of weeks and then we moved out to St. Lo."

Later, Lawson was wounded in Belgium, in a heavily forested area called the Ardennes, during the Battle of the Bulge.

"I was in the Ardennes during the legendary Battle of the Bulge," he said. "We were about 12 miles north of Bastogne."

He has lived a full life since the war, fathering four children, and having six grandchildren, nine great-grandchildren and one great-great grandchild.

He said he was pleased and surprised to get the Legion of Honor.

"It was a wonderful thing," said Lawson. "I never thought it would ever happen."

He also recalled the people of France who were happy to see Americans during the liberation. "Those people were really nice in France. They were about the friendliest ones over there."

Most of the people with whom he served, particularly the ones he served with the longest, are now gone, but not forgotten.

The Légion d'honneur was created in May of 1802 by Napoleon Bonaparte. It is the highest decoration bestowed by France.

To qualify for the Legion of Honor, American veterans must have fought in either the Normandy, Provence, Ardennes or Northern France campaigns. Lawson was in two of those, Normandy and the Ardennes. Paying tribute to those men is considered a way to express France's gratitude toward those who risked their lives - and in many cases, gave their lives - defending liberty.

Lawson was one of three Arkansas men who received the honor Thursday during a ceremony at the state Capitol in Little Rock. The others receiving the Legion of Honor were Harlow Conrad and Daniel Towery.

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