WWII Flying Ace Laid to Rest
By Rachael J. Mercer, 2d Lt., Civil Air Patrol
(other photos available upon request)
After 73 years and three burials, Capt. Albert Schlegel, a WWII Double Ace, was laid to rest in Beaufort National Cemetery in Beaufort, S.C. Col. Perry Nuhn (Ret., USAF) is the only living relative to remember Schlegel, who was shot down over Strasbourg, France, in his P-51D on August 28, 1944. Nuhn, a Callawassie Island, S.C., resident and docent at the National Museum of the Mighty Eighth Air Force, played an integral role in the memorial events which took place March 27-30, 2017.
Missing In Action to Body Unrecoverable
Capt. Schlegel joined the Royal Canadian Air Force and then transferred to the Royal Air Force in November 1941 as a sergeant and a pilot. He had to complete the full training to be a pilot twice because of an awful accident in which he received a longitudinal fracture of the leg, a broken ankle and the loss of most of his front teeth. Eventually, he qualified to transfer into the Mighty Eighth - a newly established group of pilots which was part of the U.S. Army Air Corps. During the time in which he served, there were changes not only to the planes but to the tactical mission of the pilots. At one point, fighter pilots were expected to guard the bombers - their primary job was to see the bombers safely back home. But as the war dragged on, it became the job of fighter pilots to go on the offensive - luring out the German Luftwaffe and striking at German infrastructure.
On Aug, 28, 1944, over two months since the Normandy Beach invasion on D-Day, Schlegel and other pilots were still striking German targets in France. Their mission was to prevent supplies arriving to the battle front, where Allied troops were taking over city by city, town by town. Striking railroads, truck convoys, and other German war-making infrastructure was the primary goal for these pilots at this late time in the war. Schlegel, flying a P-51D, radioed his trouble and was never heard from again.
His family received the notification that he was “Missing In Action.” Meanwhile, just a couple of months later, in November 1944, heavy rains washed a poorly buried body to the surface in a town near where Schlegel was thought to have been lost. The town doctor identified the body as an American soldier, and the body was buried in the town’s cemetery.
In 1948, after an investigation found a crashed plane in a river near Strasbourg, it was presumed that it was Schelgel’s plane and his body was now listed as “unrecoverable.” At some point, years after the war, the American agency tasked with Recovery of Missing in Action soldiers learned of this burial, exhumed the body and moved it for proper burial in an American cemetery in France. The soldier was identified as X-73, his wounds documented, and then buried.
Fast forward to 2015, when the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA)
re-opened the case of X-73. The forensic anthropologists at Offutt Air Force Base in Omaha, Neb., noted the pins in the leg and the missing teeth of the soldier, and began putting the pieces together. In late 2016, Ret. Col. Perry Nuhn received a phone call informing him that the DPAA had positively identified the remains of his uncle, Captain Albert Schlegel.
Permanently Laid to Rest
Nuhn set out to plan a memorial service befitting this WWII Double Ace, who had 13.5 confirmed kills. He contacted the National Museum of the Mighty Eighth, where he regularly volunteers as a docent. Their Chapel of the Fallen Eagles would be a perfect setting for the memorial service. Then he contacted Beaufort National Cemetery, just a few miles from his house and not too far from the Mighty Eighth. His Air Force contacts led him to the squadron for which his uncle flew - and he requested their support as well - resulting in the flyover of 4 F-15s to conclude the memorial. For an Honor Guard for the memorial, Civil Air Patrol, the auxiliary branch of the United States Air Force, provided six cadets ages 15-17 to serve as pallbearers and ceremonial guardsmen.
On Monday, March 27, 2017, the body of Capt. Albert Schlegel was delivered to the Savannah-Hilton Head International Airport, and was escorted by Patriot Guard Riders and soldiers from Fort Stewart. On Wednesday, March 29, 2017, the memorial service was held at the National Museum of the Mighty Eighth Air Force in Pooler, Ga. During the service, Schlegel was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart, and his nephew Col. Nuhn delivered a moving eulogy and explanation of Schlegel’s service in the RCAF, the RAF and the Mighty Eighth. Following the ceremony, and under the watchful eyes of the Civil Air Patrol Honor Guardsmen and the Patriot Guard Riders, the casket of Capt. Schlegel awaited the flyover of a lone P-51, which approached from the east - followed by four F-15s in the Missing Man formation. On Thursday, March 30, Schlegel was permanently laid to rest in the Beaufort National Cemetery, where the same Civil Air Patrol squadron which served as Honor Guard places wreaths each December during the Wreaths of America program.
Articles of Interest:
**Albert L. Schlegel: http://www.americanairmuseum.com/person/3611
**More than 70 years after he was executed by the Germans, a World War II ace finds rest in Beaufort http://www.islandpacket.com/news/local/community/beaufort-news/bg-milita...
**83,000 American Veterans are Still Missing in Action http://www.defenseone.com/business/2014/11/83000-american-veterans-are-s...
**Offutt Lab Identifies Remains of WWII Fighter Pilot Who Disappeared http://www.omaha.com/news/military/offutt-lab-identifies-remains-of-wwii...