Written by John Szozda
February 17, 2012
An Oregon man will finally receive his Silver Star 67 years after his commanding officer recommended he be honored for his bravery during World War II.
Earl Geoffrion, 94, will receive the Silver Star at a ceremony this Friday at 3:00 pm at the Toledo Veterans Clinic on Glendale. Marcy Kaptur, U.S. Congresswoman from the Ninth District, will present the medal.
Geoffrion’s long wait is a result of lost paperwork and bureaucratic red tape. Over the last eight years, public officials including Rep. Kaptur, former Oregon Mayor Marge Brown and Rufus Broadaway, the commanding officer who witnessed Geoffrion’s bravery and recommended him for the Silver Star, pushed for the long-overdue recognition.
Broadaway is a retired surgeon living in Gainesville, Florida. In 1944, he and Geoffrion parachuted behind enemy lines with the 507th Parachute Infantry Regiment. Their mission, three days after D-Day, was to take the LaFiere Causeway over the Merderet River. The crossing was needed to move troops, tanks and artillery from Utah Beach into the heart of France.
Two noteworthy letters sent to the Department of the Army helped make the case for the Silver Star. In a 2007 letter, retired Major General Paul F. Smith, U.S. Army, described the battle site. He wrote that the enemy was entrenched along the 500-yard, two-lane causeway which was “hemmed in on both sides by swamp-land with absolutely zero room for maneuver, debouching into an area of heavy defense upon reaching the west side of the river.”
Broadaway, in a 2011 letter, described Geoffrion’s actions as the Allies tried to negotiate this deadly bottleneck. “As we rushed onto the Causeway I was accompanied by several men from my platoon. We were met with withering fire: small arms, machine guns, grenades, mortars, and artillery. The road bed was littered with disabled vehicles, dead bodies, wounded men, and those too frightened to move. Cpl. Earl Geoffrion was alongside me. His actions were outstanding. He moved fearlessly, picking up immobile soldiers and urging them to get up and move forward. Firing as he went, disregarding enormous opposition, he was heroic in every aspect. His actions inspired and strengthened the determination of his fellow soldiers. We moved on to seize the Causeway.”
The letter concludes with this. “I was enormously proud of Geoffrion. He clearly deserved recognition for his actions under fire…In my mind an injustice was done to an outstanding soldier. I strongly urge that Earl Geoffrion be awarded the Silver Star.”
Broadaway’s original paperwork was lost during the confusion of war. But, in 2004, the two men met again to talk over old times and it was then that Geoffrion discovered Broadaway had recommended him for the Silver Star, not the Bronze Star he had been awarded.
Geoffrion’s harrowing experience actually began the night before. Earl was a demolition expert. His job was to blow up railroad tracks and communication lines. But, on the night of June 8th, it was his ability to swim that helped save the lives of two fellow soldiers when he and another GI silently swam across the river under cover of darkness to bring back two wounded soldiers.
Lt. Broadaway recommended both men for the Soldiers Medal for extraordinary heroism for that effort. Earl’s citation read, “Technician Fifth Grade Geoffrion, without thought of the personal danger involved, waded through heavy swamps and swam the deep channel of the river to reach his comrades. The prompt administering of first aid probably saved the lives of the two wounded soldiers.”
The next day, when the attack bogged down under intense fire, Geoffrion was one of the men who raced into the fire to kick and encourage his fellow soldiers to get up and attack. After crossing the causeway, Earl remembers a bullet struck his rifle stock breaking it in two and knocking him into a foxhole on top of a dead German. He grabbed the German’s machine gun and continued the attack. The weapon, however, had a distinctive sound and, afraid he would be mistaken for the enemy, Earl dropped the gun. Another GI gave him a rifle and Earl continued the attack and shot a German officer emerging from a foxhole.
The Allies seized the causeway, but at a great price. Sixty men died and 529 were wounded.
Geoffrion is looking forward to the upcoming ceremony which will upgrade his Bronze Star to Silver. “I just can’t believe it. It’s awesome. Marcy Kaptur did a great job,” he said.
Rep. Kaptur stepped in after Geoffrion’s supporters had exhausted all of their administrative military remedies, said Susan Rowe, casework manager for Kaptur’s office.
Geoffrion’s wife of 66 years, Tillie, is also expected to attend the ceremony. Like many wives of combat veterans, she knew little of her husband’s actions. Earl just didn't talk about it. She finally heard him open up when the couple went to France in 1994 for the 50th anniversary of D-Day.
Earl is a gregarious energetic man at 94, still with a sharp mind and memory, but he can speed talk one minute and in the next minute suddenly stammer to a stop recalling the depravity and horror he witnessed so long ago. He’ll drop his head, close his eyes and fight back the tears until he regains his composure.
Earl worked 40 years as a railroad conductor before retiring. Today, he has slowed his pace somewhat. He did take up golf and had been playing three times a week with friends. He shot his age at 89, but now he just rides a stationary bike to stay in shape. He explained, “I had good friends. You know how they are, but they’re all gone now. I’m the only one left.”
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