TN WWII veteran receives French medal for service - WSMV News 4

TN WWII veteran receives French medal for service

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People across Middle Tennessee paused to say "thank you" to the men and women in uniform who have served our nation.

A day after Nashville's annual Veterans Day parade, a ceremony in Mt. Juliet honored veteran and Bronze Star recipient Robert Hibbett.

And at the Tennessee State Museum, several people showed off a new exhibit to honor Sgt. Alvin York, the Fentress County native who earned the Medal of Honor for his service during World War I.

However, no matter the name, every single veteran has a story of sacrifice worth hearing.

For William Barenkamp, 91, a quiet conversation Monday brought out the emotion of a hard-fought victory.

"We had a job to do. And that was to get rid of Adolph Hitler," Barenkamp said.

The retired lieutenant from Cookeville fought in World War II.

"At the same time, I had a twin brother who was captured, so I knew I couldn't leave knowing he was captured behind enemy lines," Barenkamp said. "I told the colonel I had to stay and take care of that part of it, and he was released a short time of that. So everything worked out real well for us."

With medals and commendations, Barenkamp returned to the United States and soon met and married his wife, June, six weeks before he shipped off for a new conflict in Korea.

That was 62 years ago.

"Oh, I think I'm prouder of him today. Because he has gone through so much," June Barenkamp said.

"I always tell her I took the coward's way out and went to war rather than stay and get married," William Barenkamp said.

Like every veteran, conflict changed things, but he said it did so for the better.

To him, and so many others, Veterans Day always serves as a reminder.

"It was an experience that I wouldn't have wanted to miss," William Barenkamp said.

The latest honor for the decorated hero is a medal from the French Foreign Legion, which honors those who helped defend France during World War II.

William Barenkamp said he was proud to receive the medal, but there is a new, scary fight he and his family will now face.

Doctors recently diagnosed William Barenkamp with stomach cancer, and his time may be short.

"They say this is incurable cancer, so it's hard to predict what that will do. But through faith and trust in the Lord, why, he can take that cancer and just turn it around," William Barenkamp said.

Optimism, it seems, should be a way of life for those on the front lines of the military.

It was - and is - in the Barenkamp family.

"We, in America, we go outside our door, can enjoy the fresh air. We have freedom. We have been so blessed in America and we take it for granted," June Barenkamp said.

Copyright WSMV 2012 (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.

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