Highest Military Honor Awarded

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Zach, left, Savannah and Ethan Schwab hold artifacts from their grandfather’s Medal of Honor award ceremony. Zach, senior, criminal justice major, holds the citation signed by President Barack Obama. Savannah, non-degree seeking, holds a 1944 portrait of 1st Lt. Donald K. Schwab. Ethan, junior, accounting, holds the Medal of Honor.

Liz Spencer

Students’ grandfather receives Medal of Honor

Three Missouri Southern students spent their spring break in Washington, D.C., this year, learning about history – their family history. On March 18, Savannah, Zach and Ethan Schwab attended the Valor 24 ceremony, where President Barack Obama awarded the Medal of Honor to 24 veterans, including their grandfather, First Lieutenant Donald Schwab.

The ceremony was the culmination of a Congressional review of all Distinguished Service Cross awards, approved in 2002, Schwab’s son Terry said.

“They started with over 6,000 and kept narrowing it down. We had no idea they were looking at my dad’s award,” he said.

Schwab had been awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, the nation’s second highest military service award, during World War II. His family was shocked to hear that, in March, his award was being upgraded to the Medal of Honor, the highest award given for valor in combat.

Terry received a phone call from Obama in 2013, saying his father’s award was going to be upgraded. There have been fewer than 3,500 total recipients in the history of the award, and there are fewer than 80 living recipients today.

Schwab was commander of Company E, 15th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Infantry Division, in Lure, France, on Sept. 17, 1944. He led his company of 30 men against heavy fire from a machine gun nest.

The lieutenant charged the enemy alone, hitting a German soldier over the head with his gun, a carbine, and taking him as a prisoner of war.  He led his men back to safety and helped carry the wounded and deceased.

“He told me that he hit that German so hard that if he was still alive, today he’d still have a bump on his head,” Terry said.

Ethan, Zach and Savannah, three of Schwab’s 16 grandchildren, attended the ceremony in Washington, where they met the president.

“It was an amazing experience,” Savannah said.

A full-time, non-degree seeking student, she honors her grandfather’s legacy on her blog letterstomygrandfather.com.

“My grandfather didn’t really talk about the war in front of us because we were still pretty young when he died. He did tell me once that he had never killed a Nazi, but had knocked out one of them with his gun. That was about all I ever heard. I didn’t know that was the actual story [of the incident that he received] the award for,” she said.

Ethan, a junior accounting major, described his grandfather as a patriot.

“He volunteered at Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day events,” he said. “That was a big part of what he did after he retired. He just loved our country.”

After serving in the war, Lt. Schwab returned to his hometown of Hooper, Neb. He married, had five children and retired from the postal service. He volunteered in the local Veterans of Foreign Wars and American Legion posts.

“My mom said he never missed a military funeral,” Terry said. “He was very active in the VFW and Legion. He organized the military funerals and was the commander of the firing squad. He always said that’s how he honored his brother.”

Lt. Schwab’s family describes him as humble. He was very close with his older brother, Virgil Schwab, who was killed in action in World War II.

“He highly regarded the fact that his brother was willing to risk everything and lost his life for his country,” Savannah said. “I think that’s one reason why we didn’t hear a lot of stories about my own grandfather’s time in the war, because [he felt] his brother was the real hero for giving up his life for the country. I think that is something that drove my grandfather to always honor the other veterans in his town.”

Terry said he encouraged his father to record a series of audio sessions once Donald began opening up about his experience in the war. Lt. Schwab died in 2005 at the age of 86. You can listen to an audio recording of him telling his story at www.thechartonline.com.