Porter Garner III '79 May 27, 2022 10:00 AM updated: May 27, 2022 10:02 AM
May 27, 2022
Next week, the family of Louis Girard ’43 will gather in West, Texas, for his graveside service and burial. Nearly a century after his birth in 1922, his family members may swap stories of his childhood. His last surviving sibling, Helen Pomykal, may share how much she admired her older brother as he enrolled at the A&M College of Texas after graduating from West High School. The family will not, however, reminisce on decades of holidays shared with Louis, nor look back on his lifetime of professional achievements, nor search for his features in his descendants, because at just 20 years of age, U.S. Army Air Forces 1st Lt. Louis V. Girard was killed in action during World War II.
Lt. Girard was just one of thousands of Aggies — including my dad, Porter S. Garner, Jr. ’45 — who left their studies in the 1940s to join the war effort. On Aug. 1, 1943, Lt. Girard piloted a B-24 heavy bomber from Libya to Romania to attack Axis oil refineries as part of Operation Tidal Wave. He earned the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Air Medal and a Purple Heart for his part in the operation, which is one of the most highly decorated military missions in U.S. history. Five Medals of Honor were awarded to American servicemen for their valor that day, among them Girard’s Texas A&M Classmate, 2nd Lt. Lloyd H. Hughes ’43.
Operation Tidal Wave was also one of the deadliest missions of the war. More than 50 B-24s were downed, and hundreds of aircrew were declared killed or missing in action — including both Girard and Hughes. Girard’s remains, like those of many who perished, could not be identified at the time, but nearly 80 years later, advancements in DNA technology enabled a positive identification. Earlier this year, his remains were returned to his family for a long-overdue burial with full military honors.
Lt. Girard’s story is unique, as is the story of each of the more than 1,100 Aggies who have paid the ultimate price in service to our country. But those unique stories are built on the shared foundation of our core values, particularly the value of selfless service, which each of them exemplified.
On this Memorial Day weekend, I hope you will join me and The Association of Former Students’ Board of Directors and staff in finding a way to honor those brave Aggies and all of the more than 1.3 million soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines to whom we owe the debt of infinite gratitude. Whether taking part in a Memorial Day service, displaying our country’s flag, or simply saying a quiet prayer, by so doing we demonstrate our core value of respect.
General and future U.S. President James A. Garfield said it well in 1868, on the first widely observed Memorial Day: “For love of country they accepted death, and thus resolved all doubts, and made immortal their patriotism and their virtue.”
While we can never repay these heroes or their loved ones for their sacrifices, it is incumbent upon us always to remember them and to contemplate the eternal price they paid for our enduring freedom.
Porter S. Garner III ’79
President and CEO