Philippe Etienne, the French ambassador to the U.S., came to Gold Canyon Jan. 4 to honor one of our World War II veterans.
Garland James — who turned 100 on Oct. 3, 2021 — was presented with the French Legion of Honor medal for his service when he and his unit landed in Normandy on D-Day.
He was assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division Field Hospital and his position was transporting the wounded — American, Allies and the Germans — as well as the fallen soldiers. His tour included Normandy, Northern France, Ardennes, Rhineland and Central Europe.
The French Legion of Honor medal was created by Napoleon in 1802 to acknowledge services rendered to France by people of exceptional merit. The French people will never forget his courage and devotion to the great cause of freedom during the liberation of France during World War II.
I met Garland at his 100th birthday party. He has had some amazing stories of his life. I will try and capture a few interesting facts.
He was drafted but was granted a delay for a year as he was hauling grain in the Midwest. He then was sworn into the military in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas; did his basic training in Abilene, Texas; was at Fort Carson, Colorado, for his field hospital training; and at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, he joined the 82nd Airborne Field Hospital Unit. He has traveled to England, France, Belgium and Germany before being discharged from the Army. He then moved from Missouri to California.
In 1946, his best friend was getting married in Missouri so he drove back to Missouri to attend the wedding. Three days before his friend was married, he met a beautiful young lady named Mary. They decided to have a double wedding and Garland and Mary were married three days after they met. Some wondered if it would last but he and his wife were married 65 years before she passed away in 2011. That is true love.
They had four children, Cheryl, David, Darrell and Judy (deceased); nine grandchildren; 18 great-grandchildren; and 17 great-great-grandchildren.
In 1959, he started a wholesale tire shop in Tucson. In 1961 he moved his family back to California but maintaining his business in Tucson. Garland decided in 1966 to move his family back to Mesa. In 1978, he opened a tire company by the name of James Tires in Apache Junction. This business today is still in the family and is now owned by his son, David. Garland also has a tire shop in Tuba City.
Since he never knew how to cook, he still drives into Apache Junction every day and stops in at his favorite local restaurant, Mickey D’s Café, for breakfast and stops into the shop to see how things are going.
One thing I have admired about Garland is that he never sits still very long. He is very active and enjoys visiting with his family and meeting up with friends and making new friends. He also keeps up with the news and ready for a discussion.
It was an honor to watch him receive such a high honor.
Editor’s note: Gold Canyon resident Nancy Fassbender is a board member of the Pinal County Veterans Memorial Foundation and the author of “My Fallen Hero.”
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