ENID, Okla. (KFOR) – For the most part, Richard Dennis Lawrence put up with the fuss of pomp and circumstance during his own medal ceremony if only for the sake of his family and all the other people who helped the victors in World War II.
“What do I think of all this?” he chuckles. “I’d rather be home.”
Lawrence left the farm near Wakita, Oklahoma the day after Christmas in 1942.
R.D. volunteered for the Air Corps and his superiors thought he might be a good fit for the ball turret position inside a B-17 Flying Fortress.
“I could still get in there,” he boasts at age 98. “I just don’t know if I could get out again.”
First to Africa then to Italy, Lawrence and his crew flew 37 bombing missions over Europe all with him in his unique vantage point.
“I seen it all. We was lucky,” he states.
On that 37th mission, he and the crew were shot down over Hungary.
All 10 crew members made it out.
Lawrence was captured and sent from one POW camp to another as the Germans retreated.
They marched him and many others more than 500 miles before he was liberated on May 2, 1945.
When the bus finally brought him the final leg home, it was already time to harvest.
He recalls, “I got home on my mother’s birthday. June 15th, 1945, and we started cutting wheat that afternoon.”
So more than 75 years later, R.D. sat quietly as dignitaries from across the state gathered to speak on his behalf.
Honorary French Consul Grant Moak awarded the country’s most prestigious medal for his help in liberating Europe.
“All of us in the generations that follow you,” he told the audience, “Owe you a debt we can never fully repay.”
The Legion of Honor is only awarded after an extensive vetting process, then final approval from the French President himself.
R.D. is the last surviving member of his B-17 crew.
His kind are nearly as rare as the medal itself.
Consul Moak says, “In the last 10 years there have probably been about 40 of these medals presented.”
He never left his home place except to fight a war.
R.D. Lawrence came back and lived a lot of harvests since.
He likes his view of the world just fine now, appreciating all the sacrifices that got him to this ceremony all these years later.
Lawrence lost a brother in World War II.
The Enid’s Woodring Wall of Honor and Veterans Park organization helped him through the process of joining the French Legion of Honor.