Atlanta VA Health Care System
World War II Veteran Awarded Highest French Honor
Shortly after completing his training as a U.S. Army Air Corps radio operator and gunner, World War II Veteran Herbert Staplton Stewart arrived in France unheralded in 1945. Nearly 70 years later, the French government bestowed upon Stewart its highest award - the Legion of Honor - at France’s consulate in Atlanta on June 29.
Pascal Le Deunff, the French Consul-General in Atlanta, presented the award at an intimate ceremony with Stewart’s friends and family present. "It’s just a sign of our gratitude," Le Deunff said. "All the young Americans who came to fight at that time are heroes, and we need to recognize them."
Stewart, 87, says that while he appreciates the personal recognition, his greatest satisfaction comes from his family. "I’ve always felt that I was fortunate to have five wonderful children. They have always been so caring and giving. I could not be more proud of them and they continue to inspire me each and every day."
Family members who attended the ceremony said they feel the same way about Stewart, describing him as an extraordinary man who lives a remarkable life."There are people who just let random circumstances direct their lives, and then there are those that face life, explore and learn as much as they can and try to experience all the possibilities within their reach," said Stewart’s daughter-in-law Kathy Stewart. " Herb is such a man."
Stewart’s daughter Jill Gossett added, "Those who fought in war for our country have an amazing will to accomplish anything they put their mind to and that is exactly how my father has lived his life. "It is a sense of strength and determination that I have witnessed for as long as I can remember."
At the age of 18, Stewart volunteered for the Army Air Corps because he wanted to "help save the world." He served from 1943-1945 in the 391st Bomb Group, 575th Bomb Squadron. He began his military career training to be a pilot but was informed that no additional pilots were needed. As a result, he opted to specialize in communications and gunnery and trained in St. Louis, Missouri, before deploying to Europe during World War II. Stewart served as a radio operator, gunner, and navigator. He flew 22 missions over France and Germany in a B-26 Marauder and trained with his pilot in the A-26 Invader. One of the missions was aborted when a tire blew upon landing, requiring the crew to jump to safety. Stewart believes this is when he sustained a back injury. He credits the Atlanta VA Medical Center for helping him with his recovery. "I believe that this VA is one of the very best in the United States because of the high professionalism of the entire staff who serve Veterans." While in the military, Stewart attended events put on by the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra and listened to the Glen Miller American Band of the Allied Expeditionary Forces in Europe. He also became friends with American playwright and novelist William Inge who wrote "Come Back, Little Sheba." Following his military service, Stewart earned his Bachelor’s Degree in Communications from Ohio State University and worked in the television industry from 1949-1977 with Music Corporation of America (MCA). He also helped to build one of the first public television stations in the United States - WTVN in Columbus, Ohio - and two of the first private television stations in Canada, first as a consultant and then general manager and vice president. Stewart’s time in France did not end with World War II. Later in life he attended the Cannes Film Festival as the President of MCA Canada and was the guest of Alfred Hitchcock on board his yacht. He was married for 64 years to Carmalita Stewart, who died on December 18, 2011. Together they had five children (Jill, Jan, Lisa, Mark, and Blair), eight grandchildren, and four great-grandchildren. Two of his children and one of his grandchildren were present for the award - a good example of how nice guys do finish first.