U.S. Veterans of WWII earn France’s highest honor;
Willis Bouma of Watervliet awarded the Legion of Honor Medal
at ceremony in St. Joe
By Angela Widdis
Another achievement is about to be bestowed on the World War II Veteran, Willis A. Bouma. On Wednesday, Sept. 2, 2020, at the St. Joseph Band Shell, with the ceremony slated to begin at 2:00 p.m., Bouma along with one other World War II Veteran, C. Walter Kronbetter of St. Joseph, will be receiving France’s highest honor: The Legion of Honor Medal.
Created by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1802, it’s the French equivalent of the Congressional Medal of Honor. It recognizes notable service to France. The most noteworthy foreign nationals, who have received this decoration include Generals, Dwight D. Eisenhower and Douglas MacArthur, Admiral Michael Mullen, and as an institution, the United States Military Academy at West Point.
The President of the French Republic has appointed that each and every World War II Veteran who has fought under enemy fire on French soil is eligible for this distinction if they can pass the strict screening application. An application process that includes their military file, the military separation record (honorable discharge), a chronological resume (about one typewritten page in length), a copy of a current identity document with a picture, and copies of citations for all the decorations already received in France or in the United States indicating meritorious action during wartime operations.
The Legion of Honor medal can be given by French ambassadors stationed in a foreign country. Such is the case with the award ceremony that will take place on Sept. 2 that will open with La Marseillaise, France’s National Anthem. On behalf of the President of the Republic, a representative from the Chicago French Consulate will be presenting the awards to the local veterans.
Willis A. Bouma joined the U.S. Army in October of 1943 when he went to Detroit to take his psychical which would soon lead him to Fort Sheridan. As a U.S. Army post, Fort Sheridan, which was established in 1887 was then named, Camp Highwood, in Lake County, Illinois. It was renamed in 1888 to bear the name of Philip H. Sheridan, the General of the Army, who died that same year. Prior to the war being declared, Fort Sheridan became a regional induction and training center in 1941. Along with Bouma, close to 500,000 troops were processed through the Fort. He then was sent overseas in October of 1944.
In April 1945, Willis received his first promotion in the U.S. Army moving from Private to Private First Class in the 106th Infantry Division. In the assigned unit of 106th Quartermaster Company as a truck driver, Bouma was charged with the delivery of supplies to the troops. He was in France for eight months before traveling onto Germany.
Willis served in the U.S. Army from 1943 to 1946.
Willis Bouma is a man that knows how to overcome adversity. The first adversity was when he was struck by a car when he was only 8 years old.
Determined to complete high school, he went on to earn his diploma after returning from the war and became a graduate of Watervliet High School.
He married the love of his life, Shirley Burmeister, on April 19, 1947. That union produced three children, the late Richard Bouma, and daughters Sandra Clark and Lou Ann Whorton, both of Arkansas.
The love of his community didn’t falter while in the service. In the Oc