Kentucky veteran receives French medal for bravery during WWII air battles
LEXINGTON, Ky. (WDKY) - —
Everyday we lose dozens of World War Two veterans. So when we heard a Lexington man who flew a bomber during D-Day would be honored by the French government, we didn't waste any time.
Meet retired Army Captain Gayle Alexander of Lexington. At 95... he remembers that historic day that changed the world forever.
Alexander recalls, "There were a thousand ships, so to speak, everywhere. You could not, if I had to crash land or land in the river, I'd had hit some boat full of soldiers."
Gayle Alexander's memory of June 6th, 1944 is amazing. Just don't call him a hero.
"They asked me yesterday how did you feel about making history. I said I didn't think about any history. I said, I thought about flying that airplane... because there were a lot of airplanes up that day."
Just 22, Alexander found himself on D-Day at the controls of a B17, at 6 a.m. over the coast of France. He nicknamed his bomber the Kentucky Kloudhopper.
Alexander describes that as, "a mountaineer and on the front of the airplane he's holding a bomb, stepping on the clouds, and he's carrying a jug of corn whiskey on his hip. And that was the Kentucky Kloudhopper."
He and his crew survived that bombing run, and later that day completed another bombing mission over German forces.
But 6-months later, Alexander was literally blown out of the sky.
"And we had just dropped bombs, and all of a sudden I got hit between the #2 engine and the cockpit, and it filled with fire. These eyebrows, this one goes up, and this one goes down, cuz they burned those off."
He was still alive... falling to Earth.
"I was blown out, and I'm falling head first. And of course I'm excited. But they had taught us, you don't open your parachute until you're about 10,000 (feet).
Captured, he spent 7-months as a POW. He was freed by American forces at the end of the war, and the Lexington native returned home to become a veterinarian.
On August 12, a French government representative presented Alexander with the French Foreign Legion Medal of Honor.
Alexander says, "one of them asked me yesterday, you feel like a hero? I said no, of course not, I said, I was just a pilot, that was lucky to get home. And you know, that’s the way I feel about it."
The French government representative who honored Alexander, Bernard Marie, was five-years old on D-Day, and was near the beach at Normandy, when Allied forces came ashore.
He says the liberation allowed his father, who his family thought was dead, to come home from fighting in the French resistance.
"If they were not successful I would speak Russian," he said. "We have never forgot our liberator."