Adrien Girouard played his harmonica before a lively crowd at the Park Restaurant last Thursday, after Congressman Bill Owens presented him with the Bronze Star.
Girouard received the prestigious medal for an act of bravery that occurred on July 19, 1944 during World War II.
Technician Fifth Grade Girouard was operating a tank during an attack near a monastery on Monte Cassino, a hill southeast of Rome that played host to numerous battles during the war. The tank bogged down and crew members began evacuating – they were all killed by gunfire.
Girouard stayed inside the tank and waited until a second tank arrived – but that tank bogged down, too. When a third tank showed up, Girouard and one Lieutenant Wright – the commander of the second tank – began evacuating.
Lt. Wright was injured in the process and Girouard saved him by opening the tank’s hatch and pulling him to safety. While doing so, a bullet pierced Girouard’s wrist.
Girouard received a commendation from the military for his bravery – but it took decades to receive the Bronze Star.
Paul Maroun is a Franklin County legislator and a veteran himself.
“This goes back to World War II,” he said. “But the most recent battle was waged in trying to secure the Bronze Star for Adrien – Mr. G as we all call him.”
According to Maroun, Girouard’s family began lobbying then-Congressman John McHugh several years ago to make sure Girouard received the award.
Maroun explained that McHugh – now the Secretary of the Army – started the process, and his successor, Owens, was able to see it through to fruition.
“This Bronze Star isn’t a small feat,” he said. “It’s a big honor. People should be rewarded for the bravery. We started this battle with John McHugh when he was in office, and after John left, Congressman Owens and his staff picked the ball up and made sure that what we are now experiencing happened.”
A number of local officials spoke about Girouard’s bravery during Friday’s ceremony – but others, like Tupper Lake Mayor Mickey Desmarais, said his impact on the local community can’t be understated.
Desmarais recalled working for Girouard’s lumber company.
“It was really nice working for Adrien,” he said. “A lot of the time, as a lumberjack, you didn’t always get paid the way you want to. But Adrien treated us well and he is as honest as they come. He never talked about these war stories when we worked for him, but after hearing them today, I’m even more proud to have worked for him – and I’m proud he lives in Tupper Lake and I’m proud to have him as a neighbor.”
During his remarks, Congressman Owens said that heroes like Girouard have set an example for future generations.
“I thank you for your service and for the great work that you did,” he said. “But not only for the day that’s represented by this medal, but every day you served in the military and every day you served your family and your community over the years. We thank you, and we honor you.”
After the ceremony, Owens explained that Girouard’s records were lost following his service and his discharge was delayed.
“The records never went through the normal process, they sort of went into a black hole,” he said. “When you have a couple million people under arms during World War II, it takes a while to reconstruct the records. This thing took probably 10 years to get done.”
And even though it took 66 years to unite Girouard with the Bronze Star he so rightfully deserved, his daughter, Terry, said the family harbors no ill will.
Terry adds that receiving the award after all these years makes it that much more meaningful.
“I’m glad that it happened now – because he didn’t have a wife and kids back when this happened,” she said. “We’ve heard his stories for years. It makes you feel true to country – what he was and what World War II meant.”
For his part, Girouard was all smiles throughout the ceremony. Afterward, the heroic veteran summed up the moment concisely.
“I feel pretty good,” he said, laughing. “How’s that?”
Good enough, in fact, to wow the crowd with a rousing number on his prized harmonica.