Eight decades later, Sac and Fox tribal member honored by French government

Special to the News-Star
Sac and Fox tribal member Don J. Couteau, who served in WWII, is being posthumously awarded France's Legion of Honor award.

After more than eight decades, the family of Sac and Fox tribal member Don J. Couteau will accept a Legion of Honor award on his behalf from the French government at a ceremony Wednesday near Stroud.

Don J. Couteau and brother, Orville, were teenagers when they enlisted in the U.S. Army at the beginning of World War II.

While Orville stayed stateside, Don was sent to a secret airbase in England called Harrington Field. His unit was part of the fledgling U.S. Army Air Corps. Officially, the 801st/492nd Bombardment Group; their mission was to conduct espionage activities behind German lines throughout Europe. The Office of Strategic Services relied on the U.S. Army Air Corps special operations air groups to provide aerial support behind enemy lines. These provisions included personnel, weapons, radios, ordinance, food and other supplies needed to fight and demoralize the Nazis occupying Europe. The operation's code name was “carpetbaggers.”

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B-24s were used with the necessary modification of creating a plywood chute when the mission required dropping personnel behind enemy lines. After the D-Day invasion, with the increasing need for fuel (especially for George Patton's Third Army), the planes were modified once again so every available space could be used to transport fuel.

Don's boyhood hunting skills were very useful to his assigned tail gunner slot. He described himself from those days as having “eyes like a cat.” All the crew members would leave the personal possessions (wallets, money, letters and photos) in their lockers. At least once, his airplane was strafed by the Luftwaffe and Don feared it would go down. He claimed that the attackers had not come up from the rear or he would have got them.

The “carpetbaggers” operated in several European countries, including Norway, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany and Switzerland. Most of the operations were conducted in France. Don J. Couteau received many ribbons and medals for his active service in WWII, but he never received recognition of service from France.

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For the past year, the remains of tribal member Don J. Couteau have resided in the Coastal Bend State Cemetery near Corpus Christie, Texas.

As a result of efforts by his daughter, Donna Couteau, he will finally receive his Legion of Honor award. He will be awarded the rank of chevalier (knight). The “eminent merits” required to be awarded the order require the “flawless performance of one's trade as well as doing more than what is ordinarily expected, such as being creative, zealous, and contributing to the wellbeing of others.”

The award ceremony, where Donna will accept the award on behalf of her father, will be at 9 a.m., Wednesday, July 21, at the Veterans' Memorial of the Sac and Fox Nation. Alexis Andres, the consul general of France, will present the award.

It is the Couteau's request that all Sac and Fox people should be invited to this event.

After the military ceremony, the Sac and Fox Honor Guard will present a meal for guests on the reservation at the community building at the center of Jim Thorpe Park on Highway 99, five miles south of Stroud. Auxiliary members and activities committee members have pledged to help and will be assisted by tribal elders.

The menu for the meal will be sun-dried NDN corn with beef, sun-dried pumpkin with brown sugar, wild rice with chicken, yunkipin with ham hocks, hot meat, green beans and potatoes, fry bread and iced tea. Coffee will be available.

Seated at the head of the table will be Principal Chief Justin Wood, Consul General of France Alexis Andre, Oklahoma representative of the French Government Grant Moab, and members of the Couteau family. Also present will be special guests of the Couteau family, including Henrietta Massey, Elvis Ellis, Mary McCormick and Lawrence Kahbeah. At the invitation of the Sac and Fox Honor Guard, representatives of the Seminole Honor Guard and the Ioway Veterans will also be present.

It is anticipated that the line for the meal will begin at 11 a.m. with prayer. The head table will be served, as will everyone over 75 years of age and all with restricted mobility.