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Parkersburg veteran honored at French embassy

Photo provided to Parkersburg News and Sentinel Photo Provided Clement Dowler, right, named a Chevalier of the Legion of Honor by the nation of France for his service during World War II in liberating the nation from German occupation, is shown with CSM Fabrice Gaillet of the French Army during induction ceremonies at the French Embassy in Washington, D.C.
Photo provided to Parkersburg News and Sentinel
Photo Provided
Clement Dowler, right, named a Chevalier of the Legion of Honor by the nation of France for his service during World War II in liberating the nation from German occupation, is shown with CSM Fabrice Gaillet of the French Army during induction ceremonies at the French Embassy in Washington, D.C.

PARKERSBURG, W.Va. — A Parkersburg man shot down in enemy-occupied France has received a prestigious recognition for his service in World War II.

Clement Dowler, 91, was among 24 U.S. veterans Wednesday at the French embassy in Washington, D.C., where a ceremony was held to name them a Chevalier of the National Order of the Legion of Honor. The Legion of Honor is the highest award in France.

“It was a great honor,” said Dowler, who was accompanied to the ceremony by his son, Neil Dowler.

Dowler was a gunner on a B-17 in the U.S. Army 8th Air Force. He was shot down in France, but never captured by the Germans.

He fought with the French Underground then later through the Office of Strategic Services, the forerunner of the Central Intelligence Agency.

Dowler joined the Army Air Corps on Dec. 13, 1942. After training in the United States, he and his crew flew the B-17 to an airbase in England. His first mission was March 20, 1944, over Frankfurt, Germany.

“The second mission was the worst of all,” Dowler said.

The target was a ball bearing factory near Berlin, protected by numerous German planes and anti-aircraft guns, he said. Of the 18 planes from his base, 10 were shot down, Dowler said.

On April 28, 1944, Dowler’s plane was shot down on a mission to bomb a German air base at Avord, France. All 10 crew members bailed, he said.

Five who opened their parachutes too early were captured, he said. The other five who delayed opening their parachutes eluded the German patrols, Dowler said.

Dowler broke his foot on the jump and was helped by fellow crewman Herbert Campbell. They hid in the hedgerows from the German soldiers searching for them.

“We could hear the German soldiers walking by and we could smell their cigarettes,” Dowler said. “We laid there until they left.”

Dowler, hopping and holding onto Campbell, was found by two French farmers.

“They kissed us on both cheeks and carried me to a different hedgerow,” Dowler said. “About midnight they came back and gave each of us a sack of food.”

In the morning, Campbell stole a bicycle and they left, later joining with the French Underground, then with the OSS.

“I never had any training for the ground,” he said.

After several months of fighting with the underground and the OSS, eluding Germans all the while, Dowler headed south to cross the mountains toward Spain where he would be returned to England by plane.

Dowler’s last flight was his 13th mission.

“Now the number 13 has always been my lucky number,” he said.

The National Order of the Legion of Honor is the highest decoration bestowed in France.

Dowler and 23 other veterans attending the ceremony were addressed by Olivier Serot Almeras, consul general.

“We will never forget what you have done for us,” he said. “This is the cornerstone between our two countries, our two people.”

Also receiving the Legion of Honor that day were: George Alezander Aubrey, Arthur Breyer, Donald Coe, Frank Robert Feduik, Edward Franey Jr., William Georgov Jr., John Gordon, Robert Hall, Donald Hepler, John Horne, William Hornsby, Albion Hutcherson, Darius Jones, William Jucksch, Charles Keel, Joseph Maguire, William McCallister, Charles McGuire, James McLeod, William Minton Jr., Peter Munger, Eric Wiesenhutter and Rudolph Zamula.

“We all had different war stories,” Dowler said. “It certainly was intimidating. I wish I could have spent more time with them, but it was over too soon.”

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