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(Updated 7:30 a.m., Nov. 11)
Navan WWII veteran receives French Legion Medal of Honour

By Fred Sherwin
Orleans Online

Navan World War II veteran Eric Smith holds up the French Legion Medal of Honour he recived during a recent ceremony at the French Embassy. Fred Sherwin/Photo

At 95 years of age, Navan WWII veteran Eric Smith thought the accolades and commendations were all behind him. Little did he know that he would be bestowed with one more commendation for his service and heroism.

On Wednesday night, Airman Smith received the French Legion Medal of Honour along with five other Ottawa-area veterans.

"It's a real honour to receive this. Very humbling," said Smith.

During an interview with Smith and his wife Dinah on Thursday, I asked them what the criteria was for the Medal of Honour. Dinah quickly answered for her humble husband. "You have to be a hero," she said.

Smith flew 58 missions during the war, all of them in the European Theatre and all of them as a pilot in a de Havilland Mosquito -- a two-man, twin prop tactical bomber.

The son of an infrantryman who had served in the trenches during the First World War, Smith signed up with the RCAF on July 13, 1941 after spending a year as a high school teacher.

“There was no damn way I was going to be in the war unless I was in the air force. I had heard enough about living and fighting in the mud from my father,” says Smith who very nearly didn’t get his wish when it was discovered that his legs were a half-inch shorter than the required length to be a pilot.

“They were going to say no at first, but they let it go,” says Smith.
After spending the rest of the summer helping out on his parents farm in Navan, Smith said his goodbyes on August 27, 1941 and hopped on a train to Toronto to begin his training.

He was enventually assigned to a combat squadron on Dec. 1, 1943.

“I was thrilled and confident at the same time,” Smith remembers. “I wanted to be a combat pilot and I was ready to do my part."

When the war ended Smith remained with the RCAF as a flight instructor, then in 1952 he accepted an invitation to fly combat missions in the Korean War as an exchange pilot with the United States Air Force at the age of 31.

He would fly 30 missions in the skies above Korea.

On Friday, he will be attending the Rememberance Day ceremony at the Navan Cenotaph to honour his fallen comrades.

The Fremch Legion Medal of Honour is France's highest honour. It was created in 1802 by Napoleon Bonaparte. It is awarded in recognition of outstanding achievements made in the service of the French Republic in either a civilian or military capacity.

(This story was made possible thanks to the generous support of our local business partners.)

 

 

   

 


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