The mortar shell exploded as U.S. Army Platoon Sergeant Frederick Flory cautiously made his way toward a house along the Saar River in France. The impact catapulted him into the air, dislodging both his helmet and rifle.
What ensued was stays at various hospitals from Paris to Chicago, where Sergeant Flory had shattered teeth and, ultimately, an eye removed, and was treated for wounds that included a massive leg infection.
Now, over 73 years after the horrific incident that led to his medical discharge near the end of World War II, France has thanked the 93-year-old Wauseon native for his service while on its soil. In December he received the French Legion of Honor medal, the country’s highest distinction, at his home in Ft. Myers Beach, Fla.
It’s a particularly satisfying honor for Dr. Flory, who retired following an over 30-year career as an anesthesiologist at Riverside Methodist Hospital in Columbus, Ohio.
He entered the army in 1943 at age 18. After completing basic training, Flory was permitted to transfer to the Air Force, his preferred branch of the military. Fate stepped in, however, and after a flurry of stays at various military camps he was shipped to Newport, R.I., in August 1944, where he boarded the U.S.S. Mariposa bound for Liverpool, England.
From there, Corporal Flory boarded a train to Southhampton, then sailed on the U.S.S. Leopoldville to Omaha Beach in France, the site of one of the war’s most brutal battles just two months earlier. As a member of the 137th Infantry in General George Patton’s third army, Flory learned he was among soldiers transported there to replace those killed during the fighting.
He was assigned to an anti-tank unit that was under attack inland, in the Forest of Gremecey. Following a large battle there, the unit waited for supplies to be replenished, then made its way gradually to the town of Sarreguemine at the border of France and Germany, where German troops had destroyed bridges across the Saar River.
Now a platoon sergeant, on Dec. 14, 1944, Flory was to notify three army gun emplacements in the area that a new bridge was almost completed and it was time to move on. That meant walking a road parallel to the Saar River, which led to an open space easily seen from a German gun emplacement across the river.
“Right then and there, I was not going to walk across that open space,” he said.
A house being used as an army observation post stood on the river’s edge about 200 yards away. Flory made his way there, carefully creeping around a nearby manure pile where a Jeep was parked. His next memory was lying on the ground, where he pulled a bloody hand from his face.
“I assumed the Germans had lobbed a mortar shell across the river,” he recalled. “They dropped it over that house close enough to pick me up and throw me in the air, and give me multiple wounds.”
He crawled into the house, where he was treated by medics. He had sustained injuries to his right arm, both legs, his face, and his right eye.
Flory received treatment in small hospitals behind the front line before being transported to a hospital in Paris, where he spent Christmas Day. A week later he was flown to England, where at a Manchester hospital he discovered massive infection in his right leg.
It was a negative experience during this recovery period that convinced Flory to pursue a career in medicine.
“When the doctor made rounds, he had about three other doctors with him. But when I tried to get his attention to look at my leg, he wouldn’t even look at me,” Flory said. “He just didn’t pay any attention to my request to look at it. I was so upset, I thought if he could do that and be a physician, I could too.”
In March of 1945, he was shipped back home and sent to Vaughn General Hospital in Chicago. His other wounds had healed but by May he began losing sight in his left eye. Doctors determined it was an auto-immune reaction to his damaged right eye, which they removed.
Flory was still in Chicago when Japan surrendered on Sept. 2, 1945, effectively ending World War II. “Within three days I was discharged from the army,” he said. “I didn’t get any papers. They said they would mail them to me.”
The army was also too busy to transport him back to his home on East Leggett Street in Wauseon, which has since been razed. So Flory hitchhiked. “In those days, especially if you were in uniform, you’d get picked up almost immediately,” he said.
Upon his return, he remembered the callous English doctor and was determined to earn a medical degree. “I wanted to perform at least the way I felt they should have,” he said.
After practicing at Ohio State University, Dr. Flory moved on to Riverside Methodist Hospital for the remainder of his career.
Last year his daughter, Judy Pelletier, heard that an acquaintance’s father was a recipient of the French Legion of Honor. She helped Dr. Flory fill out an application which was accepted.
On Dec. 12, 2017, he received the medal and the title of chevalier – or knight – of the legion by Clement LeClerq, general consul of the French Embassy in Miami Beach. The accompanying letter stated: “In the name of the French Republic it is my privilege to send you France’s highest distinction in recognition of your service.”
Dr. Flory, who has only opened up about his war experiences in recent years, said he felt “very much so” honored to receive the recognition. He said he was glad he contributed to the victory of a U.S. ally in the war.
“They got their country back. I’m sure they’re very pleased, and I’m pleased for them,” he said.
Reach David J. Coehrs at 419-335-2010.