Cecil R. French can be classified as a real American hero. French, 86, has the distinct honor of being in combat in three different wars — World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War.
Born in Birmingham, French was drafted into the U.S. Army at the age of 18.
“Basic training was at Camp Hood, Texas, and was 13 weeks long,” French said. “From there, I went to New Jersey’s Camp Kilmer to prepare to go overseas.
French went by ship to France on the Belgium border, and was assigned to the 899th Tank Destroyer Battalion as a crewmember.
“The Battle of the Bulge was over by the time I arrived, but we were on the front line most of the time,” French said. “There was too much excitement to get scared. I feared for my life all the time. You never knew when your number was going to come up. You just had to have faith and do your job the best you can.”
His tour of duty lasted two years. After the war ended, he was part of the occupational forces.
Once he came home, French took advantage of the GI Bill, earning a degree in business administration at the University of Alabama.
“I also took ROTC training, and did very well,” French said.
French married in 1949, and he and his wife, Doris, had two daughters. Their oldest daughter Dori (named after her mother) Cantley lives in Springville, while the younger daughter, Annette Davis, lives in Indiana.
The Korean War broke out in 1950 while French was at Ft. Benning, Ga. He spent one year in Korea.
Dori was born in 1951, and was 3-months-old before French ever saw her.
“She was a miracle baby because Doris was in two major automobile wrecks while pregnant,” French said. “She was very fortunate after being thrown out of a 1949 Ford.”
Then came the Vietnam War in the 1960s, and his tour of duty there lasted just over a year.
French spent a total of 26 years on active duty in the military and retired in 1972.
After he retired, French attended the University of Alabama at Birmingham at the age of 46, and earned a master’s degree in art.
“At the same time, I paid for Doris to attend UAB where she earned a master’s in art as well,” French said. “I married her when she was a freshman at Alabama. She always told me I owed her a degree. While I thought she was signing me up to attend UAB, she was actually signing herself up to attend. Dori was there as well earning a master’s in education.”
It was in November 2010 that French and his wife moved to the Village at Cook Springs. Doris died just three months later in February 2011.
When asked how he enjoyed living at the Village, French said, “I think it’s a hoot.”
As French looks back over his life, he knows he is one of just a very few who has survived three wars.
“I was drafted to go to WWII,” French said. “I was assigned to go to the Korean War. I volunteered to go to Vietnam because I had to have at least six more months of combat duty to make full Colonel. I retired a full Colonel.”
French believes he served his country well.
“Whatever job or duty they asked me to do, I did,” he said.
“I am so proud of my dad,” Dori said. “I bring his dog Dolly here to visit, and we just have the best time together. I am happy to have him close by. When my mother was still living, we were one happy trio.”