WWII vet awarded highest French honor
ANSLEY - - It has been nearly seven decades since the treaty was signed declaring an end to World War II. Yet even the passage of that much time, those who served during the war have not forgotten - neither, apparently, have some of the nations American troops fought for. Just two weeks ago, Eugene Chartraw of Ansley received a surprise in the mail. Tucked neatly inside a large envelope addressed from the Consulat General of France, was a letter of commendation and medal for the World War II veteran. It is the Knight of Legion of Honor medal, and is the highest medal bestowed by the French government. The letter accompanying the medal reads, in part, “More than 65 years ago, you gave your youth to France and the French people. Many of your fellow soldiers did not return, but they remain in our hearts.” Chartraw was surprised and touched by the recognition of the French government. Chartraw was still in high school when he registered for the U.S. Army, and enlisted right out of high school in 1944. During the next two years he experienced hand-to-hand combat, was listed as Missing In Action, and was a guard at the Nuremberg Trials. But the last thing he considers himself is a hero. After completing training in California and Maryland, Chartraw boarded a ship in January 1945 and landed at LeHavre, France. In France, Chartraw joined the 80th Division, 317th Infantry, Company K at Diekirck, Luxembourg. He says he fought with this unit through Luxembourg, Bastogne, Germany and Austria. February 5, 1945, he and five other men in his company were accidentally separated from their unit during the Battle of the Bulge. “My parents received a letter saying I was officially declared Missing In Action,” says Chartraw. He says the men lived in a fox hole for four or five days, sneaking out at night to try and find the rest of their men. He describes the fox hole as “L-shaped” with the latrine on one end and their sleeping quarters on the other. “Keep in mind there were six of us, so this was no small hole in the ground,” he adds. “Being part of the infantry, we were used to living in fox holes. That was the best protection anyhow!” He says the men knew the enemy was on one side of them and their unit was on the other, they just weren’t sure where. When they finally made their way back to their outfit, the company was in position a mile and half north of Enzen, Germany. After the war ended and the treaty was signed, Chartraw was assigned to 1st Division. His new duties included serving as a guard for U.S. Justice Jackson, judge for the Nuremberg Trials, as well as the Germans on trial. After all these years the French government wanted to thank the American servicemen of the 80th Division, and published a letter in the American Legion paper searching for any still living members of the unit. Chartraw’s son, Mike, saw the notice and contacted the consulat about his father. “I’m not for sure how many of us got these,” says Chartraw, holding his medal. “There just aren’t very many of us left you know.” “Thanks to the courage of these soldiers, to our American Friends and Allies, France has been living in peace for the past 6 decades,” the letter to Chartraw continues. “They saved us and we will never forget. I want you to know that for us, the French People, they are heroes. Gratitude and remembrance are forever in our souls.” On that the French and Americans can agree.