Captain John O. French remembers
The price for freedom has been paid in full throughout the history of the United States of America, arguably none greater than those who served in World War II.
In Moffat County, over 100 young men volunteered to fight on the beaches of France and Imperial Japan, in the deserts of North Africa and in the mountains of Italy to keep our freedom just that: free.
Of the approximately 109 young men who enlisted in the war in the early 1940s, 24 never returned, while those who returned from the war remained changed for the rest of their lives.
Residents of Moffat and Craig County are familiar with the story of Lewis “Dude” Dent, as well as the story of a Norman B. Foster. However, the story of Captain John O. French was relatively unknown – until recently.
Libby Lukens, a native of Steamboat Springs, a graduate of George Washington University in early May, found herself on her knees researching the history of French from its birth to its last days in Normandy, France, in 1944 in the part of his Price of Freedom: Normandy 1944 course at GWU.
Lukens has been entrusted with a research project to find a soldier from the area where she grew up, who is buried in Normandy. Unable to find anyone from Steamboat Springs, Lukens looked Craig west, discovering French’s name thanks to the invaluable knowledge of Dan Davidson and Paul Knowles at the Museum of Northwest Colorado, as well as the county high school history teacher. by Moffat, Jim Neton.
From there, Lukens embarked on a five-month deep dive into the history of a John French, while learning more about Craig as a whole in the 1930s and 1940s.
“What was really difficult for me was that most of the people in my class were able to contact the family members of these soldiers; I didn’t have that, ”Lukens said. “What I had were the glorious and incredibly well-documented records of the Craig Empire Courier, which told all of this period.
Through his research, Lukens discovered that French was born in 1917 in Maybell as the son of John and Edna French, who had settled in the area before moving to Craig in 1926 so the children could attend school. .
French then graduated from Moffat County High School in 1935, then began working in the old Safeway building before later joining Company A of the 157th Infantry in the Colorado National Guard after the death of his brother Edwin. in 1939.
French was part of the company that helped defuse the Kremmling insurgency, as violence escalated during a workers’ strike near a Kremmling roadblock and several men were gunned down, according to reports. Lukens research. Company A were the first National Guardsmen to enter the city and began disarming anyone walking towards the roadblock, which was a tedious task as almost everyone was carrying their own weapons at the time.
Twenty-seven days after the leadership of Kremmling, Company A returned to Craig, believing their days of action were over for a while. Two days late, Germany invaded Poland, triggering World War II in September 1939.
A year later, Company A embarked at Fort Sill, Oklahoma for training as the United States prepared for war, sending about 5% of Craig into the great unknown.
In Lukens’ research, during the next few years of training at Fort Sill, French changed his name from Jack to John, and proved to be a great soldier, rising to the rank of Private Captain in three years.
At the start of World War II, the French fought in North Africa in 1943, receiving a Purple Heart for “bravery in action” after receiving a shrapnel wound. The French later joined the fighting force at Anzio Beachhead in Italy in January 1944, before eventually joining forces with the Allied forces that were to invade Normandy as part of the 22nd Infantry Regiment of the 4th Division in as captain for the D-day disembarkation.
Just over a month after leading the 22nd Infantry Regiment in the invasion of Europe, the French on July 9, 1944 near Sainteny, France, marking one of Craig’s 24 natives killed in action during World War II – about 1% of the city’s population.
Through his research, Lukens wrote a 28-page article on the history of John French, from his birth in Maybell to his time in the military and his heroic deeds during the war until his death, presenting the article to his classmates and to his teacher at the beginning. May.
“The feedback from my teacher and my classmates has been tremendous; they were jealous that I had these records to dig, ”Lukens said.
Lukens then presented his findings on Wednesday to about 30 people inside the Northwest Colorado Museum, which was the former Moffat County National Guard’s armory after World War I.
Lukens’ presentation kicked off a period of remembrance just before Memorial Day, while also starting a celebration of the Armory which turns 100 this year.
“The timing of presenting this worked really well,” said Lukens. “Being able to tell your story here, in your community, it’s so impressive to be here; it means a lot to me. It was important for me to tell his story because he is more than a name on a gravestone in Normandy. He had a whole community that loved him and he died for everyone here. I hope everyone can recognize this sacrifice. Hope I help people remember it. “
Lukens plans to travel to Normandy with his class next summer to read his story about French at his grave.
To read Lukens’ full article, visit https://www.steamboatradio.com/2021/05/22/from-craig-to-normandy-the-story-of-a-moffat-county-soldiers-sacrifice/ # _ftn23.
Editor-in-Chief Joshua Carney can be reached at 970-875-1790 or [email protected]