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Face of Defense: World War II Vet Gets Distinguished Flying Cross

By Air Force Master Sgt. Russell P. Petcoff
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, July 22, 2010 – A World War II veteran received long-delayed recognition for heroism he displayed 65 years ago in the skies above Nazi Germany during a July 19 award ceremony held in the Pentagon's Hall of Heroes.

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Retired Air Force Col. Claude M. Schonberger, who piloted B-24 Liberator bombers during World War II, poses with Lt. Gen. David A. Deptula in the Pentagon's Hall of Heroes after being presented with the Distinguished Flying Cross on July 19, 2010. Schonberger’s award was held up by wartime paperwork snafus. Deptula is the deputy chief of staff for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance at Headquarters U.S. Air Force, Washington, D.C. U.S. Air Force photo by Michael Pausic

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Retired Air Force Col. Claude M. Schonberger received the Distinguished Flying Cross for his heroic actions as a B-24 Liberator bomber pilot on Feb. 16, 1945.

Lt. Gen. David A. Deptula, the deputy chief of staff for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance at U.S. Air Force Headquarters here, presented Schonberger’s award.

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

Schonberger said he is sharing his award with the members of his Liberator’s aircrew, whom he said, “flew with me on most of my missions; many who were fatally injured."

Deptula praised Schonberger's heroic actions.

"Courage -- there are those who attempt to define this small corner of the human soul with eloquent words," 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,'" the general continued, "and I'm both honored and humbled to be in the presence of just such a hero today: Col. Claude Schonberger. For aviators, we recognize those heroes and their tenacity with the Distinguished Flying Cross.".

Schonberger's award 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."

A wartime paperwork snafu prevented Schonberger from receiving his award. Deptula acknowledged that the delay in presenting Schonberger's award 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," Deptula said.

Schonberger thanked Deptula for bringing his award paperwork to the attention of the Air Force Board for Correction of Military Records.

Schonberger recalled that his draft number was about to be called up for military service in 1942. The Army Air Corps became the U.S. Army Air Forces in June 1941. The U.S. Air Force was established in September 1947.

"I always wanted to get in the Air Corps," 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., en route to Bari, Italy, on Sept. 4, 1944. He was assigned to the 759th Squadron, 459th Group, 13th Wing, 15th Air Force.

Schonberger flew 21 missions before being shot down Feb. 28, 1945 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 Schonberger was his navigator, 2nd Lt. Bob Johnson of Bigfork, Mont. Schonberger spent the rest of the war at Stalag Luft XIII in Nuremberg, Germany.

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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Click photo for screen-resolution imageU.S. Army Air Forces Lt. Claude M. Schonberger as he appeared during World War II. Courtesy photo  
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