TURNER — In a rare moment of agreement in 1944, U.S. Gen. George S. Patton and British Field Marshall Bernard L. Montgomery both signed a form stating: “Sergeant Henry B. Poisson’s devotion beyond all call or duty and determination to accomplish the mission reflect the highest credit upon himself and the military service.”
When His Majesty King George VI of England heard of Poisson’s heroism, he, too, signed the proclamation and awarded Poisson Great Britain’s Military Medal, one of the few such honors awarded to Americans during World War II.
Turner Selectman Dennis Richardson says that thanks in large part to the efforts of Elizabeth Morris, a University of Maine at Farmington student and Turner native, there is a good chance Poisson and his heroic acts will now finally be recognized with our nation's highest military honor.
The record shows that long before dawn on Sept. 9, 1944, Poisson and the 150th Combat Engineer Battalion were assigned to replace the 204th Battalion due to a large number of casualties. The Allied attempt to establish a bridgehead across the swift, cold Moselle River was being fiercely resisted by Nazi tanks, mortars and machine guns. Only under cover of darkness could the engineers hope to get needed supplies across the river and wounded comrades back to medical help.
Poisson made five trips across the Moselle in a small assault boat that night, taking needed supplies to the beleaguered troops. Since the boat could only hold four people, Poisson stripped and jumped into the cold water and swam, pushing the boat so he could transport a full load of wounded on each return trip.
Poisson was told the infantry desperately needed batteries for their bazookas to defend against the Nazi tanks. As he crossed the river on his final trip with supplies, the enemy began deploying flares, making it easier for the machine-gunners to see their targets. Even as two passengers in his craft were wounded, Poisson managed to deliver the needed supplies and pick up another load of wounded.
On his return trip he could not unload the injured on the spit of land he had previously used because the flares exposed it to enemy fire. Poisson continued swimming with the boatload of injured soldiers until he reached the shelter of a small lake, where he administered first aid until medics arrived.
The record is replete with support letters from fellow soldiers who were there. One, from a medic working in a field aid station, told of how many of the wounded they treated were singing the praises of Poisson and how he had repeatedly braved enemy fire to bring them to safety.
By the end of the night Henry Poisson had saved 20 lives while making five trips under heavy enemy fire.
Poisson still lives in Turner today, where he was born and raised. A veteran of both WWII and the Korean War, Poisson always lived in Turner except for a few years spent in California after he left the service. He and his wife, Doris, raised four children, all of whom graduated from the Leavitt Institute (now Leavitt Area High School). Poisson worked in construction for most of his civilian life.
He is the most highly decorated soldier in the history of the 150th Combat Engineer Battalion. Among his honors are the Silver Star and the Bronze Star for other acts of heroism, but never the Congressional Medal of Honor, the nation's highest military distinction, or any other U.S. award for the acts that earned him the British Military Medal.
Since 2000, Poisson’s daughter Cheryl has been working to have her father's heroic acts recognized with the Medal of Honor. Until U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe got involved, the Army had failed to respond, though they had reviewed her request and rejected it. Their decision, she said, was based on the misconception that Poisson’s Silver Star was for his heroism displayed in the Moselle River crossing.
In 2009 Richardson and the Sons of the American Legion joined the effort. That same year, Elizabeth Morris also took up the cause in earnest.
Even in her high school days, when she began dating her future fiance Ryan Richardson, Morris embraced the interest that Richardson and his father had in American Legion activities. In 2007, she joined the Auxiliary when she found she was eligible due to the service of her grandfather, Roland Morris. But when she heard of the efforts to get the award for Poisson and met him in 2009, Morris became determined to do all she could to get him the medal.
During the 225th anniversary celebration of the founding of Turner last month, Morris delivered an address to a crowd of 500 that included U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud and Diane Jackson, staff assistant for Snowe. In her speech, she mentioned Poisson, his bravery and how he deserved the nation's highest award.
Her speech got the attention of Michaud and Jackson and reinvigorated the effort to get the award. With the help of those congressional offices, Morris and the Legion team assembled a large dossier with supporting information, including a letter of support from the Turner Board of Selectmen that was drafted after Morris appealed to the board.
A delegation will soon take the dossier to Washington, D.C., and make its case before the Army Board of Correction of Military Records.
Morris said she was glad her speech at the dedication ceremony got the ball rolling again. “I really would love to see a Turner native and a war hero be awarded for his courageous efforts,” she said.
Morris has both a personal and professional interest in the award: She is pursuing a career with the Veterans Administration.
“I want to see all veterans get what they deserve, and I think assisting Mr. Poisson is just one thing that I can do to help. I love my town, and I want to be involved with it as much as I possibly can, so this won’t be the last time you see me at any town meetings,” she said.