OLEAN, NY – “Today you are a hero of France. Today you are my hero.”
With those words, Pascal Soares, French Honorary Consul, bestowed the French Legion of Honor Medal upon Charles A. "Charlie" Brown, a veteran of World War II.
Soares had traveled from the French Honorary Consulate in Buffalo for the ceremony, which took place in the Olean Community Church on South 26th Street. The medal, considered France’s highest military decoration, had been established by Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte in 1802.
Brown, an Olean resident and founding member of the church, was surrounded by family, friends, elected officials and military officers from the New York Army National Guard’s 258th Field Artillery Battalion. Brown had served in that battalion, fighting for the liberation of France. His 302 days in combat included the Battle of the Bulge, which lasted from Dec. 16, 1944, until Jan. 25, 1945.
Brown had been drafted shortly after graduating from Machias High School in 1943. Serving as a fire direction instrument operator, targeting 155mm howitzers, the young serviceman landed on Utah Beach in Normandy on July 2, 1944, with the 258th.
The battalion is one of the oldest units of the New York National Guard, and by extension, the U.S. Army. By WW II, this New York National Guard unit had been federalized seven times, beginning with the War of 1812. When PFC Brown joined the unit in 1944, the 258th had already been on active duty for two years – "federalized" on Feb. 3, 1941, and deployed from New York City to England in 1941.
Brown returned home in December 1945. He married Barb Archer in 1949, and they raised two daughters. He retired in 1984 after careers in electronics and retail marketing.
New York Sen. George Borrello (District 57), who was present at the ceremony, praised Brown’s "unflinching dedication" and service.
“Our community came together today to honor Charles Brown, a remarkable individual and an extraordinary patriot who heeded our nation’s call to serve. His service involved tremendous risk, hardship and courage, but he did not question the mission or waver in his duty,” Borrello said.
“The French government has designated Charles as a member of the Legion of Honor, and I am proud to add my voice in expressing the deepest admiration and gratitude for his contributions," Borrello added. "Today’s event is a reminder of the sacrifices made by this exceptional veteran, who truly embodies the best traits of the ‘Greatest Generation.’ ”
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