Cpl. Jack Schlegel, the highly decorated paratrooper who once had a drink with WWII Gen. George Patton, and survived capture by the Germans four times, has died at the age of 90 -- just five days after visiting Normandy for the 70th anniversary of D-Day.
"As much as it hurts to lose my dad I know that this last D-Day celebration in France fulfilled his life and he was at peace," said Schlegel's daughter, Susan LaBudde. "My dad has always lived life to the fullest, still cutting wood, shoveling snow, reading voraciously, always ready for an interesting conversion and fully engaged in life right up to the end. My brother George and I are both tremendously proud of him.”
Schlegel, born in Germany in 1923, immigrated to the United States with his family when he was 7 years old and eventually became a member of the elite 508th Infantry Regiment of the U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne unit.
On D-Day, at 19, he parachuted into Normandy, later suffering a head wound, getting captured by the Germans and tortured by Adolf Hitler’s Schutzstaffel, or, SS. His fluency in the German language helped him survive the Nazis, but he was adamant about one fact: "Even though I was born in Germany, I'm 100 percent American."
It was Gen. Patton who gave Schlegel his first Purple Heart and together they shared a drink of scotch whiskey (Johnnie Walker Black Label).
On the 40th anniversary of D-Day, the road where Schlegel landed, near Sainte-Mere-Eglise, was christened in his honor: the Chemin Jack Schlegel. While Schlegel's honor was well-deserved, he is humble and quick to point out that other men, many of whom died or were wounded, never received an honor like this.
“When I see it now, I get a little emotional,” he said. “It is very honoring for me to have all these people here, and they appreciate what the Americans did.”
Below, hear more from Schlegel as he reflects on the 70 years since D-Day.
First published June 18 2014, 3:17 PM