News: Local retired major received French Legion of Honor Medal, named a hero
Story by Staff Sgt. Veronica Montes
FAIRCHILD AIR FORCE BASE, Wash. - After conducting countless missions during World War II, surviving a nearly fatal plane crash and overcoming cancer, 92-year old retired U.S. Air Force Maj. Clarence Grimes was honored with the French Legion of Honor Medal, the highest recognition by the French government.
Mr. Jack Cowan, Honorary Consul of France, presented the medal to Grimes on Oct. 25, at Fairchild Air Force Base, Wash., for his contributions almost 70 years ago to defend and preserve the independence of France.
“I really appreciate the honor and everything that comes with it; it has great meaning in that way,” said Grimes. “After being friends with France for all these years, it was quite an honor to be accepted for this medal.”
More than 30 members of the Grimes family and close friends joined Fairchild airmen to witness the ceremony where Grimes stood proudly on stage with Col. Brian Newberry, 92nd Air refueling Wing commander, and the French Consul, as Grimes’ nephew, U.S. Army Lt. Col. Jeffery Grimes, briefed the amazing feats his uncle was a part of. He then extended his admiration and gratitude to his uncle.
“I want to personally thank you for your service to this great nation, and further, for being a mentor and role model to me,” said his nephew.
While America recognizes Grimes as a hero, the Consul said Grimes will also never be forgotten by the people of France.
“For your courage, faith and declaration contributed almost 70 years ago to defend and preserve the independence of France, and to save our common values of freedom, tolerance and democracy, I would like to extend this tribute to you and all your fellow soldiers during World War II,” Cowan said to Grimes. “You are forever Frances’ hero. The French people will never forget what you and all the other Americans did to restore our freedom.”
The medal was awarded for five missions Grimes conducted in France 1944, yet during that time, he also received combat credit for 50 missions. Although it was a rough time for him, Grimes said it was also rewarding.
“Combat makes a person appreciate life,” said Grimes reflecting on his military service. “The military meant everything to me for those few years. It makes a person become more disciplined and it stays with you the rest of your life. I met many friends, and as far as my crew, we lived together, and in combat, we fought together. It changes a person’s life; they may not recognize it at the time, but more than 60 years later, I certainly do.”
Grimes spent his last years in the military on flight status here at Fairchild with the B-36 Peacemakers and B-52 Stratofortress. Also while stationed here, he and his wife, Peggy, owned more than 800 acres of land in Newport, Wash., and opened a campground called Marshall Lake Resort. He retired and settled there in 1963 after 24 years of honorable service.
He has since then been maintaining the land and campground alongside his wife who passed away this last March after 65 years of marriage. After all the sacrifices and hardship he has faced, he said this may have been the hardest. He spoke wonderfully of her presence and said this was a moment she would have loved to see. Yet Grimes said he was excited to look out in the crowd and see his friends, family and airmen there to celebrate the day.
“I think it’s great that all the family who could make it, came,” he said. “It really is an honor to have a ceremony like this.”
Grime’s younger brother, James Grimes, was able to attend the presentation and said it was wonderful to be able to be here.
“My brother was always giving, never receiving,” said James. “It’s great to see him receiving something like this. When he walked in a room, it’s like a light turning on, he always stood out and was very well liked. We all always and still do look up to him.”
Now Grimes spends his days at the lake. He still holds on to the memories of his military service and family, but enjoys the land and is blessed with the company of resort campers, friends and family.