France recognizes local ‘hero’ decades laterHarold Brown is not just a hero; he’s a knight. The people of France recently thanked the Superior man for his service during World War II by naming him a Knight of the Legion of Honor.
By: Maria Lockwood, Superior Telegram
Harold Brown is not just a hero; he’s a knight. The people of France recently thanked the Superior man for his service during World War II by naming him a Knight of the Legion of Honor. Their gratitude shines from a small box the Consul General of France sent to Superior a few weeks ago. Inside, the French Legion of Honor Medal rests, a silent testament to Brown’s valor.
The Superior man quit high school, determined to prompt his parents into letting him join the U.S. Army.
“We were at war and I wanted to be part of it,” Brown said. “I think everyone wanted to go.” But his folks made him wait until he turned 18 to join.
The Superior man enlisted in June 1943 and originally trained with the military police. But when the call came for more men in the infantry, Brown transferred to the 42nd “Rainbow” Infantry Division. He shipped overseas with Task Force Linden to shore up front line troops in the Ardennes during the Battle of the Bulge. It was a shocking entry to war.
“From then on it was fight and fight and fight every day,” Brown said.
He learned to tell the different sounds of the shells as they whined overhead. Each day Brown survived in the foxholes on the front line, he said, boosted his chances of making it through.
As a soldier with the communication platoon, Brown was called on to repair telephone wires that were damaged by vehicles or the enemy. While repairing a line to the 2nd Battalion, the Superior man found himself in a foxhole with three German tanks nearby. The Germans, dressed in white, began to get out of the tanks so Brown fired. They jumped back in the tanks, turned their guns around, and fired. Brown’s ears were damaged by a bomb that exploded next to the foxhole, sending shrapnel through his left ear.
Once they started pushing the German troops back, Brown remembers crossing rivers on pontoon boats and fighting from town to town through France, then Germany to the Austrian border. Along the way, the 42nd Infantry Division liberated the concentration camp at Dachau. Brown recalled seeing the furnaces and boxcars full of prisoners.
“They tried to get rid of them before we came and they shot through the cars,” he said. “It was awful.”
Brown completed his service in Austria as part of the army of occupation after the Germans surrendered. He returned to Superior in the spring of 1946, having attained the rank of sergeant.
“We all have to do something,” Brown said. “I’m glad I served. The experience was good. I saw the world. I’m glad I came home.”
A lot of his friends did not, he said.
Brown didn’t return empty handed. A German shepherd he picked up while fighting in Germany returned with him. Commo, named after the communications division, lived with him for about 10 years. Brown found employment as a butcher, worked at the King Midas Flour Mill and became a business agent for teamsters in Duluth. About a year ago, the Superior man received a Purple Heart for the incident when his ears were injured. He credited former Douglas County Veterans Service Officer John Scheldroup and his assistant Ellen Oaks for digging up the information and putting in the work to have him recognized.
For his service, Brown was also awarded the Bronze Star, Minnesota War Memorial Dedication, Good Conduct Medal, WWII Victory Medal, Occupation of Germany Medal, European/African Service Medal with three Bronze Stars, and the Presidential Service Citation for the American Campaign.
Those who know Brown say he’s always been humble about his service.
Brown is a “fairly self-effacing gentleman who doesn’t really brag much,” said Rhoda Nagorski, director of Senior Connections in Superior, said. But he is a wonderful storyteller, she said.
“It was like ‘pulling teeth’ to get him to accept the fact that he really is a hero,” said Brown’s son-in-law, Randy L. Clausen. During a recent trip to Superior, Clausen and his wife, Connie, were involved in a car accident. The two were bruised, but not seriously injured. When they got to Brown’s home for their visit, they talked about their experience. It seemed to stir Brown, who opened up to share with them about his WWII service.
“And a story it was,” Clausen said. Brown also showed them his French medal.
Brown said he could have taken part in a presentation ceremony for it. The Legion of Honor award, created by Napoleon, is the highest honor that France can bestow upon those who have achieved remarkable deeds for France. Instead, he chose to have it mailed.
“Nobody wants to blow their own horn,” Brown said. Instead, his medals silently shine. He is, Clausen said, “our hero.”