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Claude Schonberger

See Document 1 for DFC Citation


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



65 Years Later

Mount Vernon resident receives Distinguished Flying Cross.

By Gerald A. Fill

Friday, October 01, 2010

Colonel Claude M. Schonberger (USAFR,Ret.) received the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) Award because of his heroism on his second to last combat mission in which he returned to his base safely. On his last combat mission, his plane was shot down over Bulzano, Italy, and that is when the story of his long odyssey to receive the DFC began.

During his last mission, the plane was blown apart in mid-air. His face was burned, and his collarbone was broken, but miraculously the explosion blew him clear of the plane and, because he remained conscious, he was able to parachute safely to the ground. Only one other member of the crew survived the mid-air destruction of his B-24 bomber. Once on the ground he was found and cared for by a local Italian farm family. They treated his facial burns and broken collarbone, but he was eventually captured by the occupying Nazis who moved him and others by train, truck, and forced marches to Nuremburg, Germany for interrogation. There he stayed as a prisoner at Stalag Luft 13 until the end of the war. Schonberger was awarded a Purple Heart for injuries sustained in his last bombing mission.

The circumstances and timing of his final two missions shortly before the end of the War in Europe contributed to the difficulty in verifying his accomplishments for which he was to eventually receive the DFC. On his last fateful flying mission no one saw him parachute to safety. Therefore, the U.S. Air Force classified him as missing in action. His personal effects, including an unsigned copy of the DFC citation proposal, were shipped to his parents. Complicating verification, his squadron commander, who prepared the papers for his citation, was transferred to another assignment. Then, months later the end of the war came and, although he eventually returned home to the U.S., his unsigned citation papers languished in his personal effects and a lost military file.

Many years later, with the support of U.S. Sen. Byron Dorgan (North Dakota), the assistance of Lt. Col. Laura Ryan, and Lt. General David Deptula, Schonbergers squadron commander, who was 93 at the time, was located, and he verified the DFC citation papers. The Air Force Board for Correction of Military Records then approved the award.

Schonberger and his wife Kay, who he met during the Berlin airlift, raised two children. He was employed as an air safety investigator for the Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB). During his tenure with the CAB he was sent throughout the world to investigate airline accidents. In the years that followed he served in the D.C. National Guard, volunteered as a Fairfax County Court-appointed special advocate for abused and neglected children (CASA), and volunteered as a mentor for children attending Hollin Meadows elementary school.

His two grown children, Kara and Eric, in commenting on their fathers long effort to obtain the Distinguished Flying Cross, said: "If our mom was alive today she would be extremely proud of this well-deserved honor for him, and they would celebrate by dancing the Balboa hop to Big Band music."

Despite finally achieving recognition for his bravery in combat, Schonberger never forgot that if it were not for the bravery of his crew he would not have survived that air combat mission. During the Pentagon ceremony he read the names of every member of his crew.

In looking back on his effort to receive the DFC recognition, Schonberger described what sustained and guided him: "I always advised my children to never give up. I told them there is no such word as cant. As a bomber pilot, and a prisoner of war, that philosophy was crucial to my survival, and a key element to any success I have realized in life."


Retired Col. Claude M. Schonberger poses with Lt. Gen. David A. Deptula July 19, 2010, in the Pentagon's Hall of Heroes after being presented with the Distinguished Flying Cross. General Deptula is the deputy chief of staff for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance at Headquarters Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo/Michael Pausic)


65 Years Later

Mount Vernon resident receives Distinguished Flying Cross.

By Gerald A. Fill

Friday, October 01, 2010

Colonel Claude M. Schonberger (USAFR,Ret.) received the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) Award because of his heroism on his second to last combat mission in which he returned to his base safely. On his last combat mission, his plane was shot down over Bulzano, Italy, and that is when the story of his long odyssey to receive the DFC began.

During his last mission, the plane was blown apart in mid-air. His face was burned, and his collarbone was broken, but miraculously the explosion blew him clear of the plane and, because he remained conscious, he was able to parachute safely to the ground. Only one other member of the crew survived the mid-air destruction of his B-24 bomber. Once on the ground he was found and cared for by a local Italian farm family. They treated his facial burns and broken collarbone, but he was eventually captured by the occupying Nazis who moved him and others by train, truck, and forced marches to Nuremburg, Germany for interrogation. There he stayed as a prisoner at Stalag Luft 13 until the end of the war. Schonberger was awarded a Purple Heart for injuries sustained in his last bombing mission.

The circumstances and timing of his final two missions shortly before the end of the War in Europe contributed to the difficulty in verifying his accomplishments for which he was to eventually receive the DFC. On his last fateful flying mission no one saw him parachute to safety. Therefore, the U.S. Air Force classified him as missing in action. His personal effects, including an unsigned copy of the DFC citation proposal, were shipped to his parents. Complicating verification, his squadron commander, who prepared the papers for his citation, was transferred to another assignment. Then, months later the end of the war came and, although he eventually returned home to the U.S., his unsigned citation papers languished in his personal effects and a lost military file.

Many years later, with the support of U.S. Sen. Byron Dorgan (North Dakota), the assistance of Lt. Col. Laura Ryan, and Lt. General David Deptula, Schonbergers squadron commander, who was 93 at the time, was located, and he verified the DFC citation papers. The Air Force Board for Correction of Military Records then approved the award.

Schonberger and his wife Kay, who he met during the Berlin airlift, raised two children. He was employed as an air safety investigator for the Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB). During his tenure with the CAB he was sent throughout the world to investigate airline accidents. In the years that followed he served in the D.C. National Guard, volunteered as a Fairfax County Court-appointed special advocate for abused and neglected children (CASA), and volunteered as a mentor for children attending Hollin Meadows elementary school.

His two grown children, Kara and Eric, in commenting on their fathers long effort to obtain the Distinguished Flying Cross, said: "If our mom was alive today she would be extremely proud of this well-deserved honor for him, and they would celebrate by dancing the Balboa hop to Big Band music."

Despite finally achieving recognition for his bravery in combat, Schonberger never forgot that if it were not for the bravery of his crew he would not have survived that air combat mission. During the Pentagon ceremony he read the names of every member of his crew.

In looking back on his effort to receive the DFC recognition, Schonberger described what sustained and guided him: "I always advised my children to never give up. I told them there is no such word as cant. As a bomber pilot, and a prisoner of war, that philosophy was crucial to my survival, and a key element to any success I have realized in life."

MACR: 12751

Claude Schonberger

2nd Lt Claude M Schonberger was assigned to the 459th BG 759th Squadron.
Military Occupational Specialty (MOS): Pilot.


Retired Col. Claude M. Schonberger poses with Lt. Gen. David A. Deptula July 19, 2010, in the Pentagon's Hall of Heroes after being presented with the Distinguished Flying Cross. General Deptula is the deputy chief of staff for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance at Headquarters Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo/Michael Pausic)

The following information on Claude Schonberger is gathered and extracted from military records. We have many documents and copies of documents, including military award documents. It is from these documents that we have found this information on 2nd Lt Schonberger. These serviceman's records are nowhere near complete and we are always looking for more material. If you can help add to Claude Schonberger's military record please contact us.

  Rank General Order Date Notes Award Ribbon & Device

Claude Schonberger

2nd Lt

4726

11/27/1944

 

AM

Air Medal (AM)

Claude Schonberger

2nd Lt

461

02/01/1945

 

AM/1OLC

Air Medal (AM) Oak Leaf Cluster (OLC)

Claude Schonberger

1st Lt

1383

03/13/1945

MIA

AM/2OLC

Air Medal (AM) Oak Leaf Cluster (OLC)

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