JUNIUS – On Veteran’s Day, Al Myhill of Fulton and Junius will visit a French school in New York City to receive the French Legion of Honor medal. It’s one of manylifetime honor for the WWII veteran. one of many honors he has received in the past year as America salutes her heroes.
But first, tonight, (Thursday, Nov. 10) the 86-year-old Myhill will get to cross something off his bucket list: he will participate in a protest by visiting Occupation Wall Street.
Myhill said he has always wondered why Americans don’t take to the street to protest injustices as he saw so many do in Europe. “We need to speak up and take action when we see injustices,” he explained. “Otherwise evil will win.”
Street protesting seems an unlikely dream for Myhill, a soft spoken man who enjoys recalling the men and women his served with as a member of the medical corps during World War II. He was assigned to the first Platoon, 53rd Field Hospital in Europe, and has written an informal story of his experiences, Continental Interlude. In it, he and his fellow soldiers recall how the unit set up field hospitals in England, Normandy, Northern France, Belgium and Germany in 1944 – 1945 as they followed Patton’s Third Army across Europe and treated the wounded at the Battle of the Bulge. The Battle of the Bulge was the largest and bloodiest battle of World War II, the last major German offensive, in the Ardennes mountains of Belgium and the town of Bastogne. American forces suffered 89,000 casualties.
“To you who answered the call of your country and served in its Armed Forces to bring about the total defeat of the enemy, I extend the heartfelt thanks of a grateful Nation. As one of the Nation’s finest, you undertook the most severe task one can be called upon to perform. Because you demonstrated the fortitude, resourcefulness and calm judgment necessary to carry out that task, we now look to you for leadership and example in further exalting our country in peace.”
This year has been an exciting one for Myhill and his family. In May, he joined more than 50 other WWII veterans living in Waterloo who were honored on a float in Waterloo’s Celebrate Commemorate parade.
A few months later, he and his daughter and son-in-law, Joanne and Thomas Hicks of Junius, with whom he lives part time, left for a two-week trip to Europe where he revisited many of the villages he and American soldiers had helped to liberate during WWII. Myhill was surprised to receive a hero’s welcome in many of the villages, and to see monuments erected to American soldiers in remote places such as the Bastogne forest. He also visited cemeteries to place flowers and flags on the graves of fallen comrades, a painful duty.
The modern cities of Europe today were a far cry from what 19-year-old Myhill saw in 1944 during his first visit to France after landing on Normandy on July 16, a month after D Day and regrouping. As he described it in this book:
“Departure from Lessay on the evening of 6 August 1944 was what we had waited for ever since we came into the army. Going into action at long last….We headed for St. Malo via the Contance bypass, to support the 83rd Infantry Division in their battle against the Madman of the Citadel. We traveled until nearly 3 a.m. in blackout, barely squeezing through at Avranches where the Germans were pushing back. Two other platoons headed for Lorient and Ploudaniel where the battle for Brest was closing in on the city itself. (The ride) was miserable. The Contance bypass was narrow and dusty and the convoy was broken up. Capt. Pinsky’s truck fell out. The roads were rough and the towns torn to hell. The faint gleams of moonlight gave you an occasional grim dark outline of a German or American vehicle in the ditch alongside the road. All was darkness, except for the artillery flashes across the sky, and here and there a flare. At about midnight we rounded the top of a hill and came into a sudden glare of light. Spotlights shining on a cage full of Prisoners of War. It was blinding to see so much light all at one time. About three in the morning, we arrived at a field near Dol St Bretagne where the clearing station of the 308th Medical Battalion was already set up and receiving casualties. It was a miserable field, and fog, such as Hollywood depicts on the moors in England, was hanging on. We were ordered to bed so we could be up and at ‘em at daybreak.”
Myhill recalled that his bed was the hood of a personnel carrier. Others slept on the ground under the trucks or wherever they could find a dry place.
His memories are similar to those other World War II veterans who gather for reunions and “talk things over.” This fall, he has attended a reunion of the Battle of the Bulge Veterans, and was inducted into the New York State Veterans Hall of Fame, nominated by State Senator Patty Ritchie, R- Oswegatchie. He writes to other members of his unit and their families now living across the country, sharing memories and CDs full of pictures.
On October 29, Myhill was honored to be invited to join an Honor Flight to Washington, DC. The flights are offered to veterans at no cost, supported by veterans groups and individuals to honor our country’s heroes. It was not his first visit to our nation’s capital, but it was one of the most moving. Because it was raining that day, the veterans were driven in limousines all over the city and out to Arlington National Cemetery where he visited the Iwo Jima Memorial and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. A highlight was a stop at the WWII memorial. Myhill, who had visited the memorial before, opted to stay in the limo and keep dry, but he was impressed that many of the veterans, some in wheelchairs or on crutches, got out and went up close to the memorial to say a prayer or pause in tribute to their comrades.
Myhill said he was overwhelmed when his flight returned to Rochester to be greeted by hundreds of veterans, American Legion and VFW members, Boy Scouts, and politicians, all applauding and cheering.
Yesterday, (Wednesday, Nov. 9) Myhill joined more than 1,000 other WWII vets who packed the auditorium of Nazareth College in Rochester in a reunion of the more than 1,000 men and women who have participated in the 20 missions of the Honor Flight.
On Friday, Myhill will visit the Lycee Francais de New York to receive his appointment as a Chevalier of the Legion of Honor by the President of the French Republic, Nicolas Sarkozy. The honor conveys “the deep appreciation and gratitude of the French people for your contribution of the liberation of our country during WWII. “
In his letter to Myhill informing him of the honor, Philippe Lalliot, French Consul General, spoke for many who honor the members of the Greatest Generation this Veteran’s Day: “We will never forget the commitment of American heroes like you to whom (we) owe so much,”
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