France honors two Southern Nevada heroes - FOX5 Vegas - KVVU

France honors two Southern Nevada heroes

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Two local were heroes were honored over the weekend. (Peter Dawson/FOX5) Two local were heroes were honored over the weekend. (Peter Dawson/FOX5)

Two local veterans received France's highest honor, the Knights Legion of Honor, over the weekend. 

In 1802, a Legion D'Honor was established for men and woman that were either French citizens or foreign nationals for outstanding achievements in the military or civilian life. 

Honoring the 80th anniversary of the armistice, in 1998 the Legion of Honor Medal was awarded to World War I veterans that saw service in France. Since the 60th anniversary of Doomsday, the Legion of Honor Medal has been awarded to living World War II veterans that had displayed distinguished service in France. Now, the class of chevalier, or knight, will be presented by the French government to local heroes that demonstrated such distinguished service in France during World War II. 

The first honoree, Lyle Wells, was born on May 26, 1923, in the small mining town of Giltedge, Montana, a town that time has now forgotten. His stepfather, Mike Bozek, with whom he was very close, helped guide him into manhood. He was living in Humboldt, Arizona when in 1943 he received the call from Uncle Sam. Wells was inducted in Prescott, Arizona along with his buddy, Ted. Ted, who became a member of the Army Air Corps. He was later shot down and spent the remainder of the war as a prisoner of war. The army trained Wells as a rifleman, heavy truck driver and a truck master. He first entered France on Doomsday plus three as support for the Normandy invasion. He was on a landing craft carrier heading for the Normandy beach when his ship was shot at by American Troops. After spending a short time near Omaha Beach, as part of the first maintenance platoon of the 581st engineer field maintenance company he went on to Saint-Lo and Cherbourg where he helped build pontoon bridges so that troops and equipment could cross the rivers.

On July 16, 1944, while on leave in Paris, he witnessed two men brutally attacking a woman in an alleyway. After confronting them and driving them off, he carried the woman to a nearby tavern. There, an old gypsy woman gave him a medallion on a human hair chain and was told that as long as he wore it, no harm would come to him. Wells still wears the medallion to this day, although the human hair chain has long faded away. 

Wells was in Czechoslovakia when the war ended. Rather than going home, he reenlisted as part of a grave registration company. 

A beautiful woman, named Antoinette, who was fluent in six languages, accompanied him as an interpreter as they drove from town to town locating and digging up soldier's remains so that they could receive a dignified burial. He married his Belgium bride, Antoinette, on Feb. 16, 1946, in St. Trond, Belgium.

After returning to America with his new bride, Wells continued putting his engineering skills to work, including an 18-year career with Las Vegas Paving. To this day, Wells is a "Mr. Fix-It" building and repairing mechanical machinery. 

Wells and his wife shared a loving life together until her passing in 2011. They had one son together, Martin. 

For his service, Wells was awarded the World War II Victory Medal and the European-African-Middle Eastern Theater Ribbon with three-bronze stars plus a Marksman Medal. 

The next honoree, Private First Class Vernon Fulcher was born in a log cabin in the farming community of Pattertown, Kentucky on January 13, 1921. When he was 18-years-old he left the farm to work in a salvage yard disassembling automobiles but promises of good wages took Fulcher to a new job of cutting trees that would help clear the way for dams for the Tennessee Valley Authority. While in this position, he received his draft notice and was soon off to Camp White in Oregon for basic building. 

Later, in Needles, California, he received advanced training in explosives and road building. After training, he traveled to England upon Queen Elizabeth as a member of the 385th engineer. He helped build an airbase for preparation for the "big push." When that day came, Fulcher spent more than 30 agonizing hours on a transport waiting to go ashore at Normandy's Omaha Beach. He remembered climbing down the "fish net" to the waiting Higgins boats and then wading ashore with just his nose out of the water and his gun high above his head while the weight of his extra ammo belt kept pulling him down. Once ashore, he experienced his first taste of war as the smell of decaying bodies hung in his nostrils and German airplanes strafed the beach, shooting the soldier that was next to him. For the next week, he slept little as he patrolled the infamous hedge rows of Normandy passing by destroyed American tanks that had perfectly round holes made by German 88-millimeter shells.

A site that still amazes him to this day is when the battle ships Nevada and Texas blasted a hill in his front. He could not hear the sound when the shell left the ship but he sure heard the sound when they found their mark! Fulcher helped build pipelines across France which brought much-needed fuel to the fast moving American front lines. He also assisted in the rebuilding of the important port of Antwerp, Belgium. While in Belgium he witnessed several German V-1 rocket attacks, even photographing the winged bombs. Fulcher assisted in removing the bodies from a ten-story building that was hit by a V-2 German rocket that killed 565 people, of which 100 were Americans. While in Antwerp, he saw his first German jet fighter aircraft, The war ended for Fulcher on May 8, 1945, while he was in Belgium. 

Upon his return to the United States, Fulcher picked up again as a mechanic, though he was soon able to start his own successful transmission business that he eventually sold in 1983 thus retiring. 

In 193, he returned to Normandy, France, and Antwerp visiting the grounds that the blood of so many was shed for our freedom. Fulcher was awarded a good conduct medal, World War II victory medal and the European-African-Middle Eastern theater ribbon with four-bronze service stars. 

For more information on The Legion of Honor Medal, contact Bob Reed here

This story was written by Peter Dawson

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