SPARTANBURG, S.C. (WSPA) — An Upstate World War II veteran from Pickens received the French government’s highest honor Thursday for his service in defense of Europe. He is now a Chevalier (Knight) in The Legion of Honor. The French government is recognizing American veterans of the conflict to strengthen historic ties between the two countries.

Raymond Dawkins, 96, was recognized with the Legion of Honor, presented by Consul General of France Vincent Hommeril, at Pickens Presbyterian Church in front of about one hundred friends and family, and his wife.

“I want you to go along with me on this journey,” he said.

Dawkins appeared delighted for the experience as he spoke. He told the audience how he ended up in France, starting in Fort Jackson in Columbia, 1944. He had just turned 18. Drafted immediately. Basic training. He hadn’t been further than about 40 miles from home before. Said he hadn’t even met any Yankees yet. Then he ended up in Georgia, via Fort Bragg in North Carolina.

Georgia wasn’t what he had expected. In Macon there was a staging area, a gathering place for soldiers at Camp Wheeler . . . and it was snowing!

“I don’t think it’s snowed in Macon, Georgia before or since, but it snowed that year,” he said. “It was cold as kraut.”

Eventually he ended up in New York. He said they were good to him up there. He was across the ocean in a luxury liner that had been converted into a troop transport in 1940, The RMS Queen Elizabeth. He ended up in England.

He eventually landed in Le Havre, France. A city with a large port. The city was so fortified with German defenses, that the Normandy landings just avoided it. The landings on the beaches were supplied with a famous source, the Mulberry harbors that could form a deep-water port for large ships . Now the city was in ruins, he said.

“The actual sight was a shock,” he said.

There wasn’t a building that was still standing. Rubble was waist-high. He didn’t see anyone there. Hopefully they had already all left, he said.

He got shipped to the front in a boxcar. That’s how it began for him.

“The Legion of Honor is bestowed upon French citizens as well as foreign nationals who have served France or the ideals it upholds, including individuals who have contributed to the country professionally, as well as veterans such as the Americans who risked their lives during World War II fighting on French soil,” said Hommeril.

Raymond Dawkins
Raymond Dawkins, 96, was recognized with the Legion of Honor, presented by Consul General of France Vincent Hommeril at Pickens Presbyterian Church in front of hundreds of friends and family on April 28, 2022.

“The National Order of the Legion of Honor was created by Emperor Napoleon in 1802 to recognize individuals who have served France or the ideals it upholds. The medal is France’s most prestigious order and is bestowed on French citizens as well as foreign nationals, including veterans such as the Americans who risked their lives during World War II fighting on French soil,” Hommeril said.

More than 70 years ago, Mr. Dawkins risked his life for the freedom of France and Europe. France is what it is today, a free and sovereign country, thanks to the bravery of such veterans and thanks to America, Hommeril said.

Pickens resident Raymond Dawkins, 96, was recognized with the Legion of Honor, presented by Consul General of France Vincent Hommeril at Pickens Presbyterian Church in front of hundreds of friends and family.

Below is a brief excerpt from a memoir book provided at the ceremony that described the 141st and its movement from the time Raymond joined in January of 1945.

The 36th Infantry Division is a very old and very famous unit, especially from its WWII days. Prior to Raymonds arrival, the unit had fought all the way up Italy with valor but with many casualties. After rest and reinforcements, they invaded southern France along the French Riviera, just southwest of Cannes, with a large amphibious landing.

They met heavy resistance and fought their way north through Grenoble, Lyons, Retirement on the Moselle River, and just south of the German border at the Moder River near Saarbrucken, before turning east towards the German border on the Rhine River. The winter of 1944-1945 was one of the coldest and snowiest on record.

As his eventual unit, the 141st, neared Herrlisheim, a large battle began to rage. The weather during the battle was near zero degrees and foggy, meaning no air cover.

The town was attacked by the 3rd Battalion of the 141st from the South with other units coming in from the North. ‘Major Walter R. Bruyere Ill took the 1st Battalion, 141st Infantry, into a wading, swimming, hazardous attack on the town.’

The Germans were still fighting hard to try to turn the tide of war. The battle for Herrlisheim lasted from Jan 8 to Jan 20. Up north the Battle of the Bulge was still going on. Herrlisheim was the scene of intense fighting between the German Volksgrenadier Division, the German 10th SS Panzer Tanks and German 10th SS Division vs the US 141st, 143rd, and the US 12th Armored Division.

The second day of fighting wiped out two battalions of American Troops. The Americans pulled out and artillery was used to level the town. The Germans retreated after the overall failure of their offense.

The Americans first thought Herrlisheim would be defended by old men and boys, but later learned that this was a major effort of the Germans by crack troops. It was such a battle that it was later referred to as ‘The Little Bulge’.

The fact that our artillery had greater accuracy and range (4 miles) made the difference. This was the German’s last offensive west of the Rhine River. The 141st had two Medal of Honor recipients during this battle and lost a lot of men.

The Unit was pulled back as the ‘French took over the Rhine River sector’ and the ‘Regiments were rotated in and out of the line, with training set up, replacements received, and units refitted for the big battle into Germany which was soon to follow.’

Raymond arrived as one of the replacements during this time in the town of Herrlisheim in early February. The 141st was considered a crack veteran outfit, ‘well led by battle-tried officers and noncommissioned officers, with an esprit-de-corps that would not accept defeat.’

They were the ‘first team.’ Because of their continuous combat duty and losses they were given rear guard duty for one month and moved east and west but never very far north. For the duration of February and four days in March the 141st trained, paraded, used their headlights at night as they were ten miles back of Brumath near Division headquarters. The weather cleared for the most part and stayed warm.

This rest time allowed for movies, parties, awards ceremonies, etc.

On March 4th they moved into Haguenau and battled north. It was not understood why the Germans continued to fight so fanatically. Perhaps it was Hitler or the disciplined German mind. But the disciplined soldiers of Germany, effectively trained, were facing the finest soldiers in the world, who not only were trained for their job, but knew they were right in their cause, and who did not hesitate to take great risks in order to achieve their objectives.

The 141st was slowed by failure to get good bridges quickly enough in Haguenau but were across by nightfall. The town was cleared up and the unit started north up the direct route toward Soultz, through dense woods, heavily mined and barricaded in a number of places. But, [the Germans were] on the run, and the [141st division] were experts at chasing him.

Slipping left to use the bridges of the 143rd, they attacked east toward the Surbourg junction through the Haguenau woods. On 18 March, the Germans pulled back as rapidly as possible, leaving road blocks, blowing bridges, but putting up very little resistance until they reached their famous Seigfried Line. Company F of the 141st was the first to step on German soil near Wissembourg and the rest soon after.

The 141st was on the right flank as the battle across the Seigfried Line was planned. Generals Eisenhower and Patton estimated that ‘most sane people expected the Germans would recognize their hopeless plight and pull out.’

Therefore General Patton’s forces from up north would not be needed in the assault. What they didn’t know was that the German High Command wanted to save the coal mines in the German Palatinate and wanted to hold the Siegfried Line and would not let their forces retreat to the Rhine River. The American attack was planned for 20 March. They faced hundreds of ‘dragon’s teeth’ concrete barriers and pillboxes.

The 141st had the 14th Armored Division on it’s right with the famous French 3rd Algerian Division to it’s right. The flat areas east of Ober-Otterbach were where the Siegfried Line was the strongest and were virtually impregnable. So, five days after the difficult Haguenau battle, the 141st, after the exuberance from their recent successes, faced the gloomy prospects of a frontal plunge into the steel and concrete of the mysterious Siegfried Line.

As they approached the aiming stakes of the hidden enemy just across the open, rolling land, a scythe of fire suddenly flattened the leading rifleman. No one was even able to make a dent and the forward elements withdrawn. Another attack was tried with similar results, so the 141st went north to where the 142nd had made a gap in a less defended area. Tuning back on the line to the south and using a new ‘beehive’ anti pillbox explosive, a large area was opened . . .

Raymond Dawkins’ Memoir Book