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France bestows high honor on World War II hero Jay McIntosh of Beaverton

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McIntosh, now 94, helped liberate France by flying bombing raids against Nazi Germany


SUBMITTED PHOTO - Jay McIntosh, left, then a pilot and second lieutenant in the U.S. Air Force, was photographed with some of his B-17 bomber crew members who flew missions against Germany during World War II.
On one of his 35 missions over France and Germany during World War II, U.S. Air Force pilot Jay McIntosh’s B-17 was one of just three that wasn’t shot down by Hitler’s fighter planes.

They had started that mission with 12 bombers.

“That was the hairiest loss,” said McIntosh, today a 94-year-old retiree living in Beaverton.

Facing such daunting odds took the kind of courage almost unfathomable in more peaceful times, but which was displayed over and over again by people like McIntosh during World War II.

On Friday, more than 70 years after McIntosh helped liberate Europe from the Nazis, a representative of the president of France bestowed the French Legion of Honour medal on McIntosh during a ceremony at the Oregon Historical Society in Portland.TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - World War II veteran Jay McIntosh of Beaverton receives the French Legion of Honour award from Consul Francoise Aylmer. TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE LEFT: Jay McIntosh, left, then a pilot and second lieutenant in the U.S. Air Force, was photographed with some of his B-17 bomber crew members who flew missions against Germany during World War II. SUBMITTED PHOTO

“I am here today to tell you that the people of France have not forgotten. Their children and grandchildren have not forgotten. France will never forget,” Francoise Aylmer, honorary counsel of France for Oregon, read from a letter to McIntosh.

(See the full text of the letter reprinted below.)

She added: “Thanks to you and thanks to America, people of my generation were allowed to grow up in a free country.”

After a long ovation from a small crowd, mostly made up of McIntosh’s relatives, he returned the thanks to the people of France.

“Without France’s help, we’d probably still be a British colony,” he said to laughter among the guests.

McIntosh began piloting bombing raids during the summer of 1944, starting in July soon after American stormed the beaches and began battling the Germans on European soil. Most of those missions were aimed at enemy targets in Germany and France, many aimed at taking out fuel plants and transportation routes that helped cripple Hitler’s forces. A couple of missions dropped arms and other supplies to French resistance fighters.

But even as Germany’s military might waned, it still had enough air power to occasionally mount fierce counter-attacks that sometimes decimated American bombing fleets. McIntosh’s plane got hit by enemy fire several times but always made it back.

McIntosh joined the Air Force following the attack on Pearl Harbor but stayed in college long enough to graduate before joining the battle.

He has been honored for his World War II service before, earning the Distinguished Flying Cross and several other service medals, not to mention his prized “Lucky Bastard Club” certificate that a colonel bestowed upon survivors at the end of the war.

“I’m just a lucky old guy,” he said after Friday’s ceremony.

Following the war, McIntosh worked at Hanford, making plutonium during the Cold War era. He also was an orchardist before first retiring to the Oregon coast and then moving to Beaverton 15 years ago.

“My dad very rarely talked about his combat experiences,” said one of his sons, John McIntosh.

A granddaughter, Sarah Fritts, is a military pilot who flew missions over Iraq and now is a chief warrant officer in the Oregon National Guard. Her grandfather gave Fritts his World War II flying jacket, which she brought to the ceremony.

“He deserves it,” she said of the honor. “He’s so humble.”

“The kind of flying we do really doesn’t compare to the kind of flying he did” because the United States has “air superiority” it didn’t have in World War II, she explained. “The United States doesn’t believe in a fair fight.”

Napoleon Bonaparte established the French Legion of Honour in 1802. It also is known as the National Order of the Legion of Honour and is the highest decoration awarded in France.

Recently, the French government opened up eligibility for the Legion of Honour to more service people who played key roles in helping liberate France during World War II. They also are quickening the pace of distributing the awards, which follow an application process that McIntosh’s relatives pursued, honorary counsel Aylmer said.

“There are not too many of them left and we need to hurry,” she said after the ceremony.

World War II history

Thanks to an ongoing exhibit, the Oregon Historical Society made the ideal backdrop for presentation of Jay McIntosh’s French Legion of Honour medal.

The exhibit, “World War II: A World at War, A State Transformed,” features an impressive array of artifacts and manuscripts to vividly bring the 70-year-old battlefields and homefront to life.

The majority of the exhibits come from the vast Mark Family Collection.

The exhibit continues through Pearl Harbor Day (Dec. 7) at 1200 S.W. Park Ave., Portland.

Veterans and active duty military with proper identification are admitted free, with a sponsorship from Columbia Sportswear, headquartered in Cedar Mill.

The Society’s executive director is Beaverton resident Kerry Tymchuk.

For more information, go to ohs.org or call 503-222-1741

TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - World War II veteran Jay McIntosh poses for pictures with a statue of Winston Churchill at the Oregon Historical Society.

Here is the full text of the letter about Jay McIntosh's French Legion of Honour presentation:

Cérémonie de Remise de la Légion d’Honneur

M. Jay McIntosh

Vétéran Vétérande la Seconde Guerre Mondiale

la Consul honoraire de France pour l’Etat de l’Oregon

Dear Jay McIntosh, Ladies and gentlemen

First, allow me to say how pleased and honoured I am to be with you today.

Today, it is a special Day.

Today, we are celebrating a hero whose courage, faith and dedication contributed – more than 70 years ago – to defend and preserve the independence of France and to save our common values: freedom, tolerance, democracy.

I would like to extend the tribute today to all your fellow soldiers during the Second World War, especially to all of those who did not make it back to their country and families.

Jay McIntosh

You were born on January 23th, 1921 in Washington State.

You joined the US army at the age of 21. As a B-17 pilot in the U.S. Air Force, you fought in Normandy and in North France in 1944, taking a decisive part to the liberation of France from the Nazis.

You were awarded several decorations, among others, the Air Medal with four oak leaves clusters, the European-African-Middle eastern service medal with three Bronze stars, and the Distinguished Flying Cross.

Ladies and gentlemen,

This hero did all of this far away from his home, from his beloved family, from his friends. You are a hero.

It is almost impossible for us to imagine how much courage and bravery it must have required to cross the ocean and to fight over Europe as you did.

Courage and bravery are precisely the qualities that Napoleon wanted to reward while creating the Legion of Honor in 1802. Your courage and your bravery are precisely the reason why the President of French Republic has decided to award you the highest French recognition.

General Eisenhower told you: “the eyes of the world are upon you. The hopes and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you”.

You did your duty. You said to Eisenhower: “you can count on us”.

And you saved France and Europe from hell. You saved people you didn’t even know.

I am here, today, to tell you that the people of France have not forgotten. Their children and grandchildren have not forgotten. France will never forget.

We, the French people, know exactly what we owe to the American people, to the US Army, to the US Navy, to the US Air Force, to the US Marines, to the men and women who spent days and nights in American factories and shipyards to build the most powerful military force in history, an Armada for Liberty.

We know exactly what we owe to you personally.

Thanks to you and thanks to America, people of my generation were allowed to grow up in a free country.

On behalf of the President of the French Republic, I want to express the deep, sincere and eternal gratitude of the French people.

On this note, permit me to quote from the French President, who said:

“In France, there are many white crosses where lie some of your comrades who did not return to the United States. Know that their memory is cherished by all the people of France. The sacrifice made by you and your comrades was not in vain. If I am here before you, it is because men like you did their duty.”

As decided by the President of the French Republic, I will now bestow the Legion of Honor upon you.