Gordon Strevel was born on Feb. 26, 1922, to Marian and Lucille Strevel. As a youngster in a big family with three brothers and two sisters, Gordon took part in his fair share of mischief! During his junior year of high school at Carter, he decided—like previous generations of men in his family—to join the military. So with World War II already underway in Europe, Gordon joined the Army after graduation because he loved his country.
He was assigned to the 9th Army Air Force Infantry, 555th Signal Aircraft Warning Battalion, Company A, where he eventually earned the rank of corporal. Gordon and his unit trained first in North Carolina and then in Georgia, practicing many maneuvers before finally being deployed to England at Christmastime in 1943.
On June 6 of the following year—along the heavily fortified, Nazi-occupied coastline of France—Gordon participated in D-Day, the Allied Invasion of Normandy. As part of the largest amphibious invasion in world history, Gordon and his unit landed at Omaha Beach at H-hour (approximately 6:30 a.m.) during the first wave of the invasion and, according to Gordon, about six minutes before the battle began. As a forward observer, Gordon’s job was to observe and report on the movement of German troops and machinery, information that then was relayed to U.S. fighter pilots. The fighting was intensely brutal, and by 5:30 p.m., the troops had advanced only about 700 meters. Gordon, 22 at the time, saw many young men give their lives for their country that day.
Following the Normandy Invasion, Gordon participated in campaigns across Europe—including the Battle of the Bulge—and served in Luxembourg, Germany, Belgium, and finally Czechoslovakia, where he was when the war ended.
Upon returning home, Gordon courted and proposed to the love of his life, Doris Graves. While thrilled with the prospect of marrying the dashing Mr. Strevel, Doris faced the dilemma of not having suitable material to make her wedding dress due to the limited supplies of goods during the war. Never one to shy away from a problem, Gordon wrote a New York fabric company, saying that his sweetie had refused to marry him unless she somehow got her hands on some satin. Needless to say, the company found the letter very moving, and Doris loved the satin she received! The two were married on March 8, 1947, and recently celebrated their 65th wedding anniversary. They have one daughter, Jo, who is married to husband, Turk. Gordon and Doris have four charming granddaughters and are great-grandparents to a feisty 3-year-old who keeps them young at heart.
Through the years, Gordon has always been one to step forward with a helping head. Whether giving groceries quietly to folks around town or anonymously buying shoes for kids, Gordon has a legacy of acts of kindness—all typically done with no one’s knowledge, save the people he has helped. He always has a good story to tell and a peppermint to share. (He has even been known to hand out mints to firefighters trying to battle a brush blaze, although they declined at the time!)
During the last 10 years in particular, Gordon’s experiences in the war have been at the forefront of his heart and mind. Beginning in 2002, he has had the opportunity to return to Normandy five times to participate in ceremonies marking the anniversary of D-Day. His first trip was with his son-in-law and a dear friend, and subsequent visits have been made with different friends. Each journey has brought special memories, a sense of gratitude to God for preserving his life, and a further deepening of his love for America.
Recently, Gordon was presented France’s highest award—the Legion of Honor—for his part in helping liberate that country from Germany. He and five other Tennessee World War II veterans were nominated for the honor by Amelie de Gaulle, grandniece of Charles de Gaulle, and each were designated as recipients by French President Nicolas Sarkozy. Gordon traveled to Nashville in February to receive the Legion of Honor medal from French Consul General Pascal Le Deunff who lauded the men’s bravery, underscoring the tremendous debt of gratitude the world owes them and all members of what aptly and deservedly has been named “The Greatest Generation.” Thank you to each one.