During a week when America's latest war, Operation Iraqui Freedom, was winding down and U.S. servicemen were starting to come home, one of Wallowa County's warriors from a long-ago war was remembered.
Alan Dale Victor, 80, of Wallowa was one of 10 World War II veterans who received the Jubilee of Liberty medal in a ceremony Friday, April 25, at the Jonathan M. Wainwright Memorial at the Veterans Medical Center in Walla Walla, Wash.
"I kind of accepted it for my friends who didn't make it," said Victor.
The medal was originally presented in France in June 1994 on the 50th anniversary of the D-Day invasion to veterans of Operation Overland who returned to Normandy for the occasion. Since many more Americans who had served in the invasion were unable to be honored, Normandy officials authorized the medal to be minted in the U.S. and presented to D-Day invasion participants in an appropriate manner, such as through a Congressional office. In this case, Washington Rep. George Nethercutt made the presentation.
Though Victor was born and raised in Wallowa, he was inducted in Spokane, Wash., and goes to the veteran's hospital in Walla Walla, so was included among the Washington honorees.
Victor will now add the new medal to his already impressive collection.
As a tail gunner on a B-26 in the Army Air Corps - considered one of the most dangerous of all jobs in the war - Victor flew 65 missions, 50 in the lead position, earning 15 medals and four battle stars.
A 1940 graduate of Wallowa High School, Victor was 20 when he entered the service in December of 1944, hoping to become a pilot. As a way of circumventing a two year college requirement he said was needed for flight training school, Victor agreed to serve a tour oversees and then return for flight school.
By the time Victor came back to the States, the war was winding down, and flight training no longer available. So Victor decided against signing up again, and was discharged on July 13, 1945. "It was on Friday," the veteran said. "I figured I used up all my luck, anyway."
Victor returned home to Wallowa, where he went into the sawmill business with his father, Alva, and brother, John. Twenty years later he started driving bus for Moffit Brothers, retiring in 1990.
He and his wife, Vera, have one daughter, Linda Hoelle, who is a geophysicist living in Australia. It was at his daughter's request after he was included in a World War II issue of the Signal Mountain historical magazine several years ago (his photo was on the cover) that
he typed up 25 pages of his war memories and bound them with copies of photographs and his medal citations into a booklet that would make any family proud.
Among the things he likes remembering best are his exploits with three friends (Johnny, Jack and Carl) with whom he went through gunnery and armament schools and went with him when the 573rd squadron of the 391 Bomb Group was sent to England.
He recalls that one of the three, Johnny, had very curly hair and "was always primping, like a girl." His friends told Johnny if he shaved his head, so would they. To their surprise, he did it. So it was that Victor and his friends were the only four shaved members of the 60,000 soldiers in the 391 Bomb Group. "We didn't think he would do it," Victor recalls.
On another occasion, Victor and Johnny lit off the only fireworks in England to celebrate the Fourth of July, against group orders. They were caught by an officer, but continued to light off colored flares that could be seen for miles; the officer left in a hurry when Johnny fired one flare between his legs. The next day Victor's pilot congratulated the pair, saying that the display was enjoyed by the whole base.
Victor admitted that he was surprised to come home in one piece after the war, in light of the high casualty rate among tail gunners. He was the only one of the four shaved friends to survive the war. "One time when were bombing, the three of us planes in the lead had 500 bullet holes when we got back," Victor remembered.
About his war years, the medal winner summed up, "I figure it was worth the cause. It was a job that had to be done, and I was glad to do it."