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Honoring Iowa Veterans

National Order of the Legion of Honor

Iowa Legion of Honor Receipients

[Campbell Granaman]
Jesse Folk
[Jehria Houts]
[Emmet Johns]
Louis Junge
[Isaac Martin]
[Frank Proske, Sr.]
[Jesse Radda]
[Arthur Rasmussen]
[Clifton Struthers]
[Lee Trask]

The American Soldiers of World War I

When the conflict broke out in Europe in 1914, President Woodrow Wilson clearly stated the U.S. would continue to follow its isolationist policies and remain neutral. Although the stated intention was neutrality, the U.S. clearly favored the allied side of the conflict.  As exports to Britain and France dramatically increased. The German submarines, which patrolled the waters of the Atlantic, proved to be a hazard to the allies yet they refrained from targeting American merchant ships.

When it became clear that the U.S. was providing France and Britain with many of their supplies, the German government adopted a policy of unrestricted submarine warfare and began to target American merchant ships. Tensions between the U.S. and Germany had been increasing, and German submarines had killed some Americans in the sinking of the Lusitania in the spring of 1915. The declaration of unrestricted submarine warfare finally drew America out of its traditional isolationism, and the U.S. joined the allies in their fight against Germany.

President Wilson immediately began building an American fighting force. The American Expeditionary Force (AEF) came into existence with Congress’ declaration of war on April 6, 1917. Around 4.7 million American soldiers served overseas during the First World War. U.S. troops were involved in the conflict from April 1917 until its end in November 1918 and acted as occupation forces throughout 1919. The U.S. participated for less than two years but over 120,000 American soldiers were killed or died of disease during the war.

On November 11, 1998, people worldwide celebrated the 80th anniversary of the end of the First World War. To mark this momentous occasion, the French government began awarding living American World War I veterans with the Legion of Honor, France’s highest honor. Today we honor the Iowans who served their country by answering the call to fight on foreign soil to preserve freedom.

The History of the Legion of Honor

The groundwork for the Legion of Honor was laid immediately after the French Revolution of 1789. Prior to the revolution, nobility and class determined a person’s standing and success within French society. While under monarchical rule, French citizens received awards on the basis of class and noble rank. Few common people had the opportunity to be recognized. The revolutionaries of 1789 and the government of Napoleon Bonaparte desired to make French society more egalitarian. Napoleon took a bankrupt, lawless France and reorganized the government and attempted to bring some stability to society. He strove to make class lines less distinct and included those from different political backgrounds and classes in his government.

In order to further this idea of equality and to encourage the rebuilding of French society, Napoleon initiated the Legion of Honor. Napoleon believed the Legion of Honor would change the long-standing tradition of recognition of nobility only. Instead, recognition was to be given to all men who were deemed worthy, and all these men, regardless of class, would be united under one name-the Legion of Honor. In February 1802, Napoleon declared his desire to form an organization to honor those who had served France. In May 1802, the Legion of Honor was created to recognize civilian and military accomplishments.

By intervening alongside the French and other Allied troops, the United States was crucial to victory. Every French citizen remembers the decisive role of Gen. John Pershing’s troops in the re-taking of the Saint Mihiel Salient, in the Meuse-Argonne offensive and at Chateau-Thierry, where they helped save Paris.

On behalf of my countrymen, I reaffirm France’s eternal gratefulness to America, to its soldiers, to the women who came to nurse the wounded, to the entire population that backed the war effort.
As a solemn tribute, France shall offer its highest national award, the Legion of Honor to all Allied veterans, in the first place Americans, who fought on French soil in the Great War.

This unprecedented gesture underscores the friendship that has existed between the U.S. and France for more than 200 years and our mutual loyalty, tested in adversity from the fields of Yorktown to the beaches of Normandy.

Jacques Chirac
President of the Republic of France

Volume 4, Number 1 January 11, 1999 -- VARO Update

Iowa Veterans Awarded French Legion of Honor

We were contacted by the French Embassy in Washington DC on December 8, regarding two Iowa Veterans who have been awarded the Legion of Honor Medal for service in France during WWI. The Embassy Chief of Staff, Mr. Pierre Henori Guignard is making arrangements to come to Iowa to make the presentations. We are aware of 5 other Iowa veterans who may also qualify to receive this honor. We are awaiting more information from the embassy to finalize arrangements for the presentations. Information concerning the presentations will be available on the Regional Office Web Site. Information about the Legion of Honor is available at a special web site http://www.info-france-usa.org/atoz/legion_hist.asp. This link will open a new browser window.

Volume 4, Number 2 April 30,1999 -- VARO Update

Iowa Veterans Awarded French Legion of Honor

In March, five World War I veterans in Iowa were awarded the French Legion of Honor Medal for their service in France during the war. November 11, 1998, marked the eightieth anniversary of the end of the First World War, and in honor of this momentous occasion, the French government began awarding living World War I allied veterans with the Legion of Honor, France’s highest award. The French government has been working closely with the Department of Veterans Affairs to locate these veterans and verify their service.

On March 3, 1999, four of the veterans were honored in a ceremony at the Capitol Building in Des Moines. The Des Moines VARO along with the Iowa National Guard, Iowa Department of Veterans Affairs, and various service organizations were instrumental in organizing the ceremony. Governor Thomas J. Vilsack spoke at the ceremony and issued a proclamation declaring March 3, 1999, Legion of Honor Day in Iowa. Deputy Consul General Jean Pierre Tutin, a representative of the French government from the Consul in Chicago, awarded Emmett Johns, Lee Trask, Isaac Martin, and Clifton Struthers with the Legion of Honor Medal.

Emmett Johns trained at Camp Dodge before shipping out for France. While serving overseas, Johns remembers spending time in cold, wet trenches while also experiencing deadly mustard gas attacks. On November 11, when the armistice was declared, Johns remembers the guns firing until the 11th hour when all was silent.

Lee Trask served with the infantry in many significant battles during the war including the Battle of Verdun and the fighting in the Allegheny Forest. Like several of the troops in France, Trask became ill with the influenza virus but was able to recover. Lee Trask passed away September 19, 1998.

Isaac Martin was a frontline rifleman with 165th Regiment during World War I. He took part in significant battles such as the Marne Offensive and Meuse-Argonne. He served under General John Pershing and Colonel George Patton.

Clifton Struthers left his life on the farm to become a soldier. Struthers recalls spending his first few weeks in France in pup tents in a muddy field and hearing the continuous rumble of exploding shells in the distance. When the war was over, Struthers remembers the celebration that spread through France and the singing and dancing in the streets.

On March 4, 1999, Campbell Granaman was awarded the Legion of Honor Medal in a ceremony held at the Morning Sun Care Center in Morning Sun, IA. Several friends and family attended the ceremony along with the mayor of Morning Sun, IA, Department of Veterans Affairs representatives, and members of the National Guard from Burlington. Granaman was a member of General Pershing’s honor guard in France. As part of the honor guard, Granaman and his fellow soldiers were responsible for welcoming President Wilson when he came to visit the American troops in France.

Over four million Americans served in France during World War I, and about 120,000 Americans died. Very few American World War I veterans are still living, but for those who receive the Legion of Honor medal, it serves as a reminder from the French government that their service and sacrifice will not be forgotten.

Information about the Legion of Honor is available at a special web site http://www.info-france-usa.org/80wwl/index.htm. This link will open a new browser window.

Footnote: On March 9, 1999, we learned that Isaac Martin had passed away. We extend our gratitude to Mr. Martin for the service he gave to his country.

Volume 4, Number 3 November 18, 1999 -- VARO Update

WWI French Legion of Honor Medal Recipients

In September VA organized two separate ceremonies one week apart in which three WWI veterans were presented with the French Legion of Honor medal. Johiras (Joe) Houts, Louie Junge, and Jesse Radda were honored September 8, 1999, when Mr. Jean-Rene Gehan, Consul General of France from Chicago post-humously awarded all three medals to members of the veterans’ families.

Mr. Mark Anderson, Mayor of Keystone proclaimed September 8, 1999 Louis Junge Day and the Governor of Iowa, Tom Vilsack and Senators Charles Grassley and Tom Harkin also recognized the veterans. VA Regional Office Director Dick Kesteven spoke to remind the audience of the importance of remembering the sacrifices made by America’s Veterans.
A reception, sponsored by the American Legion, followed the event. Over 100 people including many of the veterans’ family members and a local 6th grade class were present, for the ceremony.

Ed McGivern, Past Department Commander Iowa American Legion and long-time friend of Louis Junge was instrumental in assisting with the ceremony. He gave the welcoming remarks and introduction of guests while Jerry Junge, a relative of Louie Junge, gave the invocation and benediction. Local media representatives also attended.

Jehira Houts, represented by his widow Joan of Alburnett, Iowa and son Donald of Savoy, Illinois, was 104 when he passed away June 8, 1999. Mr. Junge was 102 years of age and passed away the Thursday before the ceremony. His old uniform was proudly displayed in a glass case at the ceremony held in the same building in which his 100"’ birthday had been celebrated. Jehiras and Joan Houts had attended that celebration, the 2 vets meeting for the first time. Jesse Radda was 101 years of age when he died on February 14, 1999, and was represented by his niece, Julia Ziezer. Mr. Radda lived in Washington, Iowa where he played "Taps" at more than 700 veteran’s funerals in Washington and surrounding counties. A moving moment in the ceremony came when the tape of his performance played at his own funeral was played once again.

The French Consul General from Chicago, Mr. Gehan, also presented France’s highest, honor, the prestigious Medal of Honor, to Arthur (Art) Rasmussen at Risen Son Christian Village in Council Bluffs September 16, 1999. Many family members were present to witness the presentation and two of Mr. Rasmussen’s nephews took part in the ceremony. Roger Hemmingsen, commander of the Local American Legion Chapter was able to present his great-uncle with a year’s membership in the Legion and Mr. F. E. Hansen presented the invocation and benediction for his uncle.

Mr. Thomas Hanafan, mayor of Council Bluffs, also spoke, recalling many contributions Mr. Rasmussen made to the community. Representatives of the VA Regional Office and State Department of Veteran Affairs spoke to remind the audience of the importance of remembering the sacrifices made by America’s Veterans. Local media representatives attended.
At age 103 and in good health, Mr. Rasmussen made his own acceptance remarks upon receiving his medal.

The following is an excerpt from the medal of honor ceremony presented on April 28, 2000 for Frank Proske.

FRANK PROSKE SR.

When the clouds of war gathered over France and began to rumble around the world, a young man in America took note. Born December 16, 1895 in Chicago, IL, Frank Proske Sr. was 21 years old and an Iowa plumber by trade when he entered the service of his country.

Sent from Iowa to Camp Pike, Arkansas for 3 months training, his unit spent 2 weeks at sea on his way to Brest, France. He was aboard the English boat Ulysses, part of a 10 to 15 boat convoy. Mr. Proske remembers that 2 men died on that ship as they made the journey to France.
Arriving in Brest in October, Mr. Proske again underwent training, -this time for 1 month. At one point they pitched their tents in a field belonging to a French garden. It rained the several weeks they were there. Coping with the rain and mud made life difficult. It was to become more difficult still.

Their next destination was 40 miles from Orleans, which they reached by train. Mr. Proske and his fellow troops lived in a barn, which was home to a multitude of fleas. Baths were limited to once a month, so the soldiers picked the fleas off each other to gain some relief. Life was not easy for any of the soldiers of WWI.

After being in France 9 months, they made the return journey to Iowa. Before setting sail for home, however, they had to repair a confiscated German boat, the Kaiser Wilhelm II.
After his return to Iowa, Mr. Proske worked for the Bettendorf family for many years, commuting 15 miles from the dairy farm to work. He retired from active farming at age 70, but continues to live on the farm with his son, Walter. Mr. Proske still remembers the lightning storm that felled a number of his cattle around the hay wagon.

On a visit from Vienna, Miss Ella Marie Miller, captured his heart and on August 9, 1924 they were married. Mr. and Mrs. Proske were married 64 years when Mrs. Proske passed away in 1988. The Proske’s had 2 sons and 4 daughters: Marge, Frank Jr., Walter, Ella, Ruth and Joan. Family is very important to Mr. Proske, who enjoys spending time with his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Mr. Proske served in earlier days on the school board of Oakhill School, which had one room. Taking an active interest in politics, he occasionally wrote letters to his Congressmen, receiving some replies.
Frank Proske, Sr. is a member of Blue Grass American Legion Post #711 of Blue Grass, IA.. He also thoroughly enjoys watching television and reading. Recently he had cataract surgery on his eyes and is quite happy that he can read again. According to daughter, Ella, Frank Proske, Sr. is "still quite bright" at age 104.

Mr. Proske feels his greatest achievements in life were his marriage to his "wonderful wife," all of his "wonderful children," and now having lived in three different centuries.