Wednesday, Jun 20, 2018
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Earl J. Geoffrion, 1919-2013: Railroad engineer awarded WWII decoration by France for gallantry


Earl J. Geoffrion

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Earl J. Geoffrion, an Army veteran who was honored by France with the Knight of the Legion of Honor for heroics during World War II, died Monday in Hospice of Northwest Ohio in Perrysburg Township. He was 95.

Mr. Geoffrion of Oregon died from renal disease and congestive heart failure, said his daughter, Linda Lohner. He had been a patient in hospice for about a week.

Mr. Geoffrion, who was a retired railroad locomotive engineer, was one of the first men to jump into Normandy behind enemy lines on June 6, 1944, in the D-Day invasion.

In 2007, he was one of four men honored by France with the Knight of the Legion Honor, the highest distinction that country can bestow.

Mr. Geoffrion, who was a paratrooper with the 82nd Airborne Division, received the honor on his 89th birthday.

“After 63 years, I never expected something like this,” he said in an article published April 16, 2007, in The Blade.

According to the French, he and his fellow soldiers helped liberate France by participating in the Rhineland campaign and the Ardennes raid.

He was among some 10,000 Americans who have received the decoration, which the French government began awarding to U.S. World War II veterans in 2004.

Out of the 2,300 men in his regiment, about 800 came out of the Normandy landings untouched.

“I know I was one of the lucky ones,” he told The Blade for a story published in 1994 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the D-Day landings.

Mr. Geoffrion was part of the 507th Parachute Infantry Regiment with the 82nd Airborne and was assigned to blow up rail and communication lines. Mr. Geoffrion made 12 paratrooper jumps during his stint in the Army. He received the Bronze Star and Soldier's Medal.

Mrs. Lohner said her father never talked about his exploits in the war while she was growing up.

However a visit with his grandson to the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton affected him emotionally and he began talking about his experiences, she said.

“He never said a word,” she said. “There was a display about paratroopers. He just broke down. That was the beginning of it.”

Mr. Geoffrion, one of 12 children, grew up in East Toledo and attended Waite High School but, after his mother died, he dropped out to work on a farm in Grand Rapids, Ohio.

He said he was working on the railroad in Chicago when he was drafted into the Army in 1942.

After the war, Mr. Geoffrion returned to work as an engineer for the Pennsylvania Railroad and its successors — Penn Central and Conrail until he retired in 1982.

He married the former Matilda Lieto on March 2, 1946. They had met while she was caring for his sister's children.

Mrs. Lohner said her father returned to Normandy with his wife in 1994 and made subsequent trips with other family members through the years.

“He saw how gracious and thankful the people were for what they had done. That is when he realized he had done something good and not something bad,” she said.

Surviving are his wife Matilda; daughter Linda Lohner; sister Lucille Ovall; three grandsons, and two great-grandchildren.

Visitation will be from 2 to 9 p.m. Thursday in Eggleston Meinert and Pavley Funeral Home, Oregon Chapel, 440 S Coy Rd., where the Rosary will be recited at 6 p.m. The funeral Mass will be celebrated at 11 a.m. Friday in St. Ignatius Catholic Church.

The family suggests tributes to the charity of the donor's choice.

— Mark Reiter

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