TUPPER LAKE - Julie King, Terry Girouard and their four siblings grew up listening to their father's war stories. Whenever the family would get together for holidays and family gatherings, he would weave tales of Germans and guns, and King said she would feel a jumble of emotions: proud, thankful and horrified, all at the same time.
"They really get to you," King said.
That's why King and Girouard worked for nearly three years to secure a Bronze Star for their dad, World War II veteran Adrien Girouard, who was presented the award by U.S. Rep. Bill Owens Friday.
Adrien Girouard, his daughter Terry, left, and his wife Colleen laugh as Tupper Lake village Mayor Mickey Desmarais tells a story about him Friday morning at Tupper Lake’s Park Restaurant.
(Enterprise photo — Jessica Collier)
"This goes back to World War II, but the most recent battle was trying to secure the Bronze Star for Adrien, or Mr. G, as we call him," Paul Maroun, Tupper Lake's representative on the Franklin County Legislature and a veteran, said in his opening remarks.
On July 19, 1944, Adrien Girouard was driving a tank in an attack in the rear of a monastery on Monte Cassino, a rocky hill southeast of Rome that was the site of a series of World War II battles.
During the attack his tank bogged down, and all of the crew were killed by rifle fire while they were evacuating.
"I didn't lose my head; that's why I'm alive," Girouard said. "All the guys jumped out of the tank, and then they got killed. I stayed in the tank a half-hour."
A second tank tried to evacuate Girouard's, but it also bogged down. A third tank picked up Girouard, but the commander of the second tank, Lt. Wright, was wounded while reaching it.
Girouard opened the crew hatch and pulled Wright into his tank, taking a gunshot to his wrist. The shot went through his arm, and he said Friday that if it had been a touch lower, it would have sliced off his hand. He still has a lump where the bullet entered his wrist.
"His courage under those most trying circumstances of battle reflect the greatest credit on his organization and the service," reads the citation.
To this day, Girouard said he remembers the entire event.
"When they shoot at you all day, you remember every minute of it," Girouard said at the ceremony. "It scares you enough to remember every damn detail."
Even still, he says he wouldn't change what he did.
"If it were to happen again, I'd do the same thing again," he said.
Girouard got a commendation for his action but never received the Bronze Star until 66 years later.
King said she was thrilled when Owens notified her that it had finally come through. She and her sister had gone several routes, calling different people and trying to get help, finding documentation and filing applications.
"He called last week and said, 'We have the Bronze Star,' and I'm like, 'You're kidding,'" King said. "Because at a certain point, you just say, 'Well, forget it. How much can we do?'"
Owens presented the medal to Girouard at a Friday morning ceremony at the Park Restaurant, and many of Girouard's friends and family, along with local politicians and representatives of veterans groups, joined him to celebrate.
Owens said that when he told his father, a World War II vet, the previous night about Friday's event, his father told him it's the most important kind of work he can do, honoring veterans. Owens himself is a veteran and serves on the House Armed Services Committee.
He said it's important to keep working on making things better for veterans when they return home, mentioning Patriot Hills, a proposed veterans retreat and reintegration center in Saranac Lake, as a particularly worthy cause.
"We need to stay focused on the things that help and aid veterans," Owens said. "These are very important goals and responsibilities that we have to our veterans."
Maroun commended Girouard and his daughters as well for their persistence to get him the medal he deserves.
"They have really worked very hard to push this along," Maroun said. "He earned this. ... This is a big honor."
Girouard's children agree that he deserves the medal. They noted that he's very patriotic, and he was even born on the fourth of July.
Contact Jessica Collier at 518-891-2600 ext. 25 or firstname.lastname@example.org.