Local veteran receives French honor

Jul. 16, 2014 @ 10:17 AM

Nearly 70 years after World War II ended, Thomasville resident Joseph C. Regan was honored with the Legion of Honor medal from the French consulate.

Sgt. Regan, 94, was one of ten WW II veterans from North and South Carolina who were honored for their courage at a July 11 ceremony held in a South End meeting room in Charlotte. Designated by the French President François Hollande, the National Order of the Legion of Honor is the highest honor in France.

More than twelve of Regan’s family members including all four of his children and three great-grandchildren attended. Sons Joe Regan and Eddie Regan of Thomasville were there.

“He’s always been pretty humble about it,” said Joe.

Other medals hung from the full uniform which the veteran donned for the ceremony.

Regan, who served with Company B, 257th Engineer Combat Battalion, 28th Infantry Division, was a combat engineer who served in campaigns in France in Alsace-Lorraine and at the Battle of the Bulge in the Ardennes. The bronze star he received following his work to build a bridge across the Rhine River in Colmar, France.

“They were building this bridge and the German’s starting firing on them,” said Regan’s daughter Vickie Rolfe of Charlotte. “His commanding officer said, everybody drop what you're doing and run for cover. Well, my dad said, come on guys, we can finish this thing.

“Right after that Patton and his troops came over the bridge.”

Rolfe said that if they had permission more would have attended. Regan uses a walker these days, and Rolfe is just glad he was able to make the trip to Charlotte.

“Oh my gosh, I’m busting out a button!” said Rolfe. “We were so grateful that he got this award.”

All of Regan’s children accompanied him on a 2002 Veteran’s Day journey to retrace his steps during the European campaign that turned the tide of WWII.

Regan’s team of engineers began their mission to build troop bridges across the European theater at Le Havre on the coast of France, just north of Normandy. The veteran could remember exactly where he had stood during the war as he traversed  France, Germany and Austria.

As he reached a big, open field in Austria, he told his family, We were standing right here, with all our tools and someone drove up and said, drop all of your weapons and tools. The war is over.

Regan told his family that his most memorable scene of the war was when American forces liberated prisoners in the Dachau concentration camp. He recalls all these people wandering the streets wearing what looked to him like pajamas.

Regan summed up the whole experience simply.

“I’m just thankful,” he said.

In recognizing the bravery of the veterans French Consul General Denis Barbet read aloud the war deeds of each one of the ten veterans who were honored, most of them in their 90s.

“Ceremonies like the one held in Charlotte last Friday, honoring 10 American veterans of WWII who fought to help liberate France from Nazi occupation during 1944-1945, are among the most gratifying responsibilities that I have in my job as Consul General of France in Atlanta," said Barbet. "I was deeply touched to read these men's heroic actions and to personally thank them for their service to my country and theirs.

"Honoring them in this way with France's highest honor is but a small token of the eternal gratitude that we, the French feel. These men are our heroes, and we will never forget them."