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Receiving France's highest award — the Legion of Honor — for his service during World War II means much more to Richard Hogstad than recognition for his own sacrifices.
The University of Wisconsin-Stout alumnus says the medal represents the sacrifices of all who served during the war and helped liberate France.
"Our division lost about 1,260 guys, and I think it's a tribute to their sacrifice, not mine," Hogstad said. "I was lucky to have survived. The French are honoring the Americans who were over there, and I'm honoring those guys in my outfit and others who were killed."
Hogstad, 92, of Eau Claire, received the medal in April when it arrived on his doorstep. While some of the medals are presented in person, "all I got was a FedEx guy," he said jokingly, demonstrating his sense of humor.
French consulates in the U.S. award about 100 of the prestigious medals each year, based on exemplary records of service and possession of high awards such as the Purple Heart, Silver Star, Bronze Star and Distinguished Flying Cross.
Members of the Army Air Corps, Navy and Coast Guard who participated in one of the three major campaigns in the liberation of France are eligible.
Veterans must apply for the medal.France's Legion of Honor committee decides who merits the honor.
Army Pfc. Hogstad was in his early 20s when he served as an intelligence and reconnaissance scout and .50-caliber gunner for the 95th Infantry Division. His platoon was responsible for observing the Germans and reporting their actions so his regiment could plan attacks.
Without the aid of today's technology that allows reconnaissance from afar, it was dangerous work. If discovered, they could be taken prisoner or killed.
"We would go down into French villages day and night and lie in secluded areas and watch the Germans often come by us," he recalled.
He was awarded the Purple Heart and Silver Star for his role in the attempted capture of the Adolf Hitler Bridge spanning the Rhine River at Uerdingen, Germany, when their division drove out the Germans amid intense machine gun fire.
A military account of the battle noted Hogstad's "bold, aggressive activities against superior numbers of the enemy in the vicinity of Uerdingen and reflect great credit to him and an exemplary high tradition of military service."
During the exchange, he was shot in the hip and recovered in a Paris hospital for about six weeks.
On French soil, his company's first battle was in October 1944 near the small French town of Vezon.
Returning to civilian life
Because of the war Hogstad's education at Stout Institute, now UW-Stout, was put on hold. He had run out of money for tuition — about $500 a year then — after a year and had planned to return in January 1942.
When the attack on Pearl Harbor came in December 1941, he expected to be drafted, so he worked for the county road commission and JC Penney as a clerk while awaiting notice. His draft notice came in October 1942.
After completing his military service in 1945, he did construction work and returned to college in September 1947 using the GI Bill. His military service clinched his decision to pursue an industrial education degree.
"I was thrown in with loggers, welders, farmers, people whom I never would have met if I hadn't been in service, and it gave me a good readout for what type of skills one should have for those trades," he said.
Having taught and served in the military, several of his university instructors had high regard for his service and insight into veterans' readjustment to civilian life.
"They were very helpful. In fact, they guided many individuals into employment. They served as the eyes and ears for employment openings for students."
Hogstad's first teaching job after graduating in 1949 resulted from a job lead from an instructor.
Stout Institute gave him plenty of practical experiences. "It gave me a good foundation for working with people who liked to work with their hands and their heads at the same time," he said.
At Stout Institute, he also met his wife, Carol, whom he married in 1950 in Brown County after she graduated with a bachelor's in home economics education. She was associate professor of education at UW-Stout for 21 years before her retirement. They have three children.
Before retiring in 1984 Hogstad taught high school industrial arts, returning to UW-Stout to earn a master's in industrial education and a second master's in vocational education. He was a vocational counselor at District One Technical Institute, now Chippewa Valley Technical College, for 20 years.
UW-Stout alumnus Richard Hogstad, 92, of Eau Claire wears the French Legion of Honor medal on his lapel. He recently received the country's highest honor for his service during WWII.