November award marks ‘deux’ in French Legion of Honor

‘Deux’ for Legion of Honor, December 2010

By Renate Frydman, Special To The Dayton Jewish Observer

WWII vet Gil Unger lights a candle at the Yom Hashoah Observance, April 11, 2010, to commemorate the 65th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi concentration and labor camps

Two members of the Dayton Jewish community have received France’s highest honor this year — named Knights of the Legion of Honor — for their military service in that country during World War II.

Gilbert Unger received his award on Nov. 21 at an Honor Flight reception at the Springfield Fairgrounds. After seeing an article in one of the veteran magazines that he receives regularly, Unger wrote to the French consul general in Chicago in January detailing the two injuries he had received when he was an antiaircraft gunner in France during the war.

As a past president of the 90th Infantry Division Battalion Association, Unger led some of the members on a trip to France in 1994 for the 50th year remembrance of D-Day.

A native Daytonian, Unger landed with the 90th Infantry Division at Normandy shortly after D-Day in 1944. His division liberated the concentration camp at Flossenburg, Germany on April 28, 1945. Even as the soldiers entered the camp, guards were murdering inmates.

His division also rescued Jewish prisoners and American POWs from the Nazi death marches.

Unger says that this honor is “overwhelming, like a bolt out of the blue after 60 years.”

He adds that his entire division was awarded the Croix de Guerre because of its military accomplishments.

“I was just a cog in the wheel,” Unger says. “This honor is a luck of the draw. I witnessed a lot. There is a very small percentage (of those men) left. I was one the younger ones.”

Retired Col. Byron Lee Schatzley

Retired Col. Byron Lee Schatzley received the Legion of Honor medal in July from Air Force Institute of Technology Commandant Brig. Gen. Walter Givhan, for his service as bombardier in the 558th Bomb Squadron of the 387th Bombardment Group.

The citation states that, “thanks to the courage of these soldiers, to our American friends and allies, France has been living in peace for the past six decades. They served us well and we will never forget.”

Schatzley, who flew a total of 40 missions, 30 of them in France during the war, was a member of the Martin Marauder Tiger Stripe Group. He had a number of close calls in aircraft attacked by enemy fire, was wounded once, yet managed to survive the war. He is proud that the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force, six miles from his home in Beavercreek, has a Martin B-26 with the Tiger Stripe tail markings of the 387th.

Schatzley retired from the Air Force in 1972 after 30 years of service; he still serves as director of Wright-Patterson’s Retiree Activities Office and continues to volunteer there.

“It is a wonderful honor,” Schatzley says. “I am grateful to be part of this great group of people. It’s not like I was singled out. It is actually the group being recognized.”

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