Byron A. Schlag
Sergeant, United States Army Air Forces
Byron A. Schlag, a World War II veteran who escaped from his Nazi captors and became a popular businessman who was involved in real estate development in the North Hills, died Tuesday at The Western Pennsylvania Hospital of complications from respiratory illness. He was 78.
Sergeant Schlag, of West View, Pennsylvania, was heavily involved with preserving the history and stories of World War II and its veterans. In October, he helped organize an appearance by World War II-era bombers at the Allegheny County Airport that included a flyover at Point State Park.
The event was part of a three-day program hosted by World War II Veterans of the 8th Air Force Historical Society and the American Ex-POWs in association with the Collings Foundation. Mr. Schlag was a featured speaker.
"He wanted to keep the history alive. He was living history," said Sandra Fitzpatrick, Mr. Schlag's daughter.
During World War II, Schlag had to get his parents' permission to enlist in the Army Air Forces because he was underage.
"He thought it was the right thing to do," Fitzpatrick, 56, of Leverett, Massachusetts, said. "He was a real patriot."
Mr. Schlag was based in England and served as a tail gunner in a B-17 named Ol' Scrap Iron with the 447th Bomb Group. In March 23, 1945, while returning from a bombing run over Germany, Mr. Schlag's plane was involved in a midair collision that severed the tail of his plane. Mr. Schlag survived by riding the tail and parachuting away just several hundred feet above the ground. He was subsequently captured by German troops and held captive for about a week.
During that time, Mr. Schlag tried to escape several times before he was successful. In his escape, he was aided by German citizens who hid him from the SS until American troops arrived to rescue him.
"He was such a strong-willed and determined person," Fitzpatrick said. "They interrogated him and hit him in the back of the head with the butts of their guns and he wouldn't tell them anything. Whatever he did, he did it with gusto."
Sergeant Schlag was awarded the European Middle Eastern Ribbon along with the Bronze Star and Purple Heart.
Upon his return to Western Pennsylvania, he became involved with a number of associations, including the Syria Shriners Heritage Unit where he served in the clown unit, and the Masonic Lodge.
Sergeant Schlag marched in parades and visited children in hospitals as a Shriners clown. He was also a member of the Cranberry school board and founding member of the Auxiliary Deputy Sheriffs of Allegheny County.
Sergeant Schlag, a graduate of Cornell University, was also a principal owner and manager of the former North Hills Dairy.
In addition to Fitzpatrick, Sergeant Schlag is survived by two sons, William, of Pittsburgh; and Ronald, of Doylestown, Bucks County; a sister, Marguerite Scott, of Wesley Chapel, Florida; and three grandchildren.
Visitation will be from 2 to 4 and 7 to 9 p.m. today and tomorrow at the T.B. Devlin Funeral Home, 806 Perry Highway, Ross. A memorial service will be held at 10 a.m. Monday in Hiland Presbyterian Church, across the street from the funeral home.
Burial will be at a later date in Arlington
National Cemetery, Virginia.