Military News

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

World War II veteran receives Distinguished Flying Cross in Pentagon ceremony

by Master Sgt. Russell P. Petcoff
Secretary of the Air Force Public Affairs

7/20/2010 - WASHINGTON (AFNS) -- A World War II veteran received recognition for the heroism he displayed 65 years ago in the sky above Nazi Germany, during a ceremony July 19 in the Pentagon's Hall of Heroes.

Retired Col. Claude M. Schonberger received the Distinguished Flying Cross for his actions Feb. 16, 1945, from Lt. Gen. David A. Deptula, the deputy chief of staff for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance at Headquarters Air Force here.

"I am in awe and ecstatic to be in the Hall of Heroes for this presentation," Colonel Schonberger said. "It is indeed a great privilege and honor to receive the Distinguished Flying Cross for my actions in World War II.

"I share the Distinguished Flying Cross award with my former B-24 (Liberator) crew members who flew with me on most of my missions, many who were fatally injured," the retired colonel said.

General Deptula praised Colonel Schonberger's heroic actions on his 20th mission.

"Courage. There are those who attempt to define this small corner of the human soul with eloquent words," General Deptula said. "And then there are those who define it with their actions; who under great personal risk and danger, and not without fear, but rather in the resolute and firm sense of duty to service before self, act in spite of that fear in the almost certain consequences of the most selfless of ways that show us what courage really is.

"We call those who show us this courage 'heroes,'" General Deptula said, "and I'm both honored and humbled to be in the presence of just such a hero today: Colonel Claude Schonberger. For aviators, we recognize those heroes and their tenacity with the Distinguished Flying Cross," General Deptula said.

Colonel Schonberger's DFC citation details events of the Feb. 16 mission: " ... Lieutenant Schonberger demonstrated extraordinary flying skills and courage against the Obertraubling Airdrome in Regensburg, Germany. During the final bomb run of this mission, his bomb-loaded B-24 aircraft was struck by enemy fire, resulting in an uncontrollable propeller of the number four engine and a fire near the number three engine. Despite this hazardous situation, Lieutenant Schonberger continued on the bomb run and released his bombs with considerable accuracy."

General Deptula acknowledged that the delay in presenting Colonel Schonberger's DFC was not a reflection on the actions justifying it.

"Despite the fact that it's taken over 60 years for this day to arrive, time in no way diminishes the courageous actions of my fellow Airman, Claude Schonberger," General Deptula said.

Colonel Schonberger thanked General Deptula "for bringing my DFC papers to the attention of the Air Force Board for Correction of Military Records," and Lt. Col. Laura Ryan for "bringing all the required documentation together for review."

Colonel Ryan is the Joint Concept Development and Experimentation Branch chief, Joint Force Development and Integration Division, J-7, Joint Staff.

Colonel Schonberger heard in 1942 that his draft number was about to be called up for military service.

"I always wanted to get in the Air Corps," Colonel Schonberger said. He decided to head to Minneapolis to see if he could pass the requirements to become a pilot. He did, and began training at Lincoln Army Air Field, Neb. He and his crew sailed from Norfolk, Va., Sept. 4, 1944, for Bari, Italy. He was assigned to the 759th Squadron, 459th Group, 13th Wing, 15th Air Force.

Colonel Schonberger flew 21 missions before being shot down Feb. 28 on a bombing mission to a bridge in the northern Italian town of Bolzano. This happened 12 days after the mission where he earned the DFC. The only other crew member to survive the bomber's explosion along with Colonel Schonberger was his navigator, 2nd Lt. Bob Johnson of Bigfork, Mont. Colonel Schonberger spent the rest of the war at Stalag Luft XIII in Nuremberg, Germany.

Colonel Schonberger continued to serve on active duty until 1951. He later joined the D.C. Air National Guard and retired in 1974 as a colonel. He worked as an air safety investigator with the National Transportation Safety Board.

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