A 90-year-old World War II veteran from Boston is to be named a knight of the French Legion of Honor, the highest distinction in France, next week.
David Charter, born and raised in Dorchester, enlisted in the US Army Air Forces at 17 and flew 43 missions, fighting in battles like D-Day and the Battle of the Bulge.
“I was always frightened,” Charter said of his time at war. But, he said, “it was a job that had to be done, and I did it. . . France understood what we had to go through.”
The Legion of Honor, established in 1802 by Napoleon Bonaparte, was opened to US military veterans 10 years ago, on the 60th anniversary of D-Day. Charter is one of hundreds of veterans from New England to receive the honor and one of about 100 from Boston, said Timothy Deer, assistant to the consul general at the French Consulate in Boston.
“In particular,” reads the letter announcing Charter’s honor, “it is a sign of France’s infinite gratitude and appreciation for your personal and precious contribution to the United States’ decisive role in the liberation of our country during World War II.”
Consul General Fabien Fieschi will formally present the award to Charter at his residence, the Hebrew Rehabilitation Center in Roslindale, on Thursday.
Deer said the award is given to “anybody who’s done really exemplary things to advance French culture,” with the roster including “really remarkable Americans.” Charter, a ball-
turret gunner in B-17 and B-24 bombers, “obviously . . . put his life at risk for the war.”
Charter was permitted to leave high school in 1943 before graduation so he could enlist. He lobbied for the position of ball-turret gunner, the most dangerous and difficult crew position on a bomber, said his son, Ed Charter. The role had Charter stationed in a cramped compartment on the underside of the plane, completely exposed to enemy fire.
As part of Operation Carpetbagger, Charter’s plane would fly over occupied European territory to drop supplies to partisan fighters, often at night and under weather conditions considered nearly impossible to fly in, according to the website for the National Museum of the US Air Force.
Charter also flew bombing missions, and he was aboard a plane that crash-landed near Paris. He and his crew were back on the next flight to their station in Cheddington, England, eagerly diving back into warfare after the accident, his son recalled.
Charter is already heavily decorated. He has several Air Medals, an American Campaign Medal, the European-
African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal, and an Army Good Conduct Medal, among others.
However, the war left its mark on Charter, who has battled post-traumatic stress disorder, according to his son.
Asked about the French knighthood in a recent telephone interview, Charter simply said: “I feel very grateful. I feel very happy that it can finally be over . . . the world war.”