Eight decades later, Couteau honored by the French government

After more than eight decades, the family of Don J. Couteau, a member of the Sac and Fox tribe, will receive in his name a French government Legion of Honor award at a ceremony on Wednesday near Stroud.

Don J. Couteau and his brother Orville were teenagers when they enlisted in the United States Army at the start of World War II.

While Orville remained in the United States, Don was sent to a secret air base in England called Harrington Field. His unit was part of the young US Army Air Corps. Officially, the 801st / 492nd Bombardment Group; their mission was to carry out espionage activities behind German lines throughout Europe. The Office of Strategic Services relied on the US Army Air Corps’ special operations air groups to provide air support behind enemy lines. These arrangements included personnel, weapons, radios, ordinances, food and other supplies necessary to fight and demoralize the Nazis who occupied Europe. The code name for the operation was “carpetbaggers”.

The 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 growing need for fuel (especially for George Patton’s Third Army), the planes were modified again so that every available space could be used to transport fuel.

Don’s childhood hunting skills came in handy in his location as a tail gunner. He described himself from that time on as having “cat eyes”. All crew members would leave their personal effects (wallets, money, letters and photos) in their lockers. At least once his plane was strafed by the Luftwaffe and Don feared it might crash. He claimed that the attackers did not come from behind or that he got them.

Carpetbaggers operated in several European countries, including Norway, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany and Switzerland. Most of the operations were carried out in France. Don J. Couteau received numerous ribbons and medals for his active service during World War II, but he never received recognition of service from France.

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

Thanks to the efforts of his daughter, Donna Couteau, he will finally receive his Legion of Honor award. He will receive the rank of knight. The “eminent merits” required to get the commission require “flawless execution of one’s craft as well as doing more than is normally expected, such as being creative, zealous and contributing to the well-being of others”.

The awards ceremony, in which Donna will accept the award on her father’s behalf, will take place at 9 a.m. on Wednesday, July 21, at the Sac and Fox Nation Veterans Memorial. Alexis Andres, Consul General of France, will present the prize.

It is the request of the Knife that all the people of Sac and Fox be invited to this event.

Following the military ceremony, the Sac and Fox Honor Guard will present a meal to the reservation guests in the community building in the center of Jim Thorpe Park on Highway 99, five miles south of Stroud. Auxiliary members and activities committee members are committed to helping 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 shanks, hot meat, green beans and potatoes, fried bread and iced tea. Coffee will be available.

Heading the table will be Senior Chef Justin Wood, French Consul General Alexis Andre, French Government Representative Grant Moab for Oklahoma and members of the Couteau family. Also in attendance will be special guests from 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 Ioway Veterans will also be in attendance.

It is expected that the queue for the meal will begin at 11 a.m. with prayer. The head table will be served, as well as all people over 75 and all with reduced mobility.