97-year-old veteran surprised with replacement WWII medals
By MARTIN EGNASH | STARS AND STRIPES Published: July 30, 2019
During World War II, 1st Lt. Joseph Kollenberg, a B-24 navigator in the Army Air Corps, completed at least 27 combat missions over Northern France, Germany, the Ardennes and Central Europe, flying with the 329th Squadron, 93rd Bomb Group, 8th Air Force.
During these missions he earned numerous decorations for valor and bravery, including the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Air Medal with three Oak Leaf Clusters, and the European, African and Middle Eastern campaign service medals.
But over the years, for one reason or another, the now 97-year-old veteran has lost all of his decorations, and had only memories to remind himself and others of his accomplishments and service.
That changed last week when the U.S. Air Force surprised Kollenberg with a ceremony at the National Museum of the Air Force in Dayton, Ohio, where he was presented with replacements for all the medals he earned three-quarters of a century ago.
“We have an amazing hero from World War II, someone who did 27 missions over Europe at a time when just surviving 20 missions … was a feat,” said Maj. Gen. Carl Schaefer, Air Force Materiel Command deputy commander, during the presentation. “He served honorably, he came back, and he’s part of the reason we are all standing here today, living in a free America. It is truly an honor to have you here and be in your presence.”
The presentation was arranged by Kollenberg’s long-time friend, Air Force veteran R. Ken Trammell.
“When I became aware of what he had done (during the war), I just wanted to make sure he received his recognition and could once again be recognized for his accomplishments,” said Trammell. “He is a true member of the Greatest Generation, and his awards represent the sacrifices he made and accomplishments he has achieved.”
After Schaefer presented Kollenberg with a set of medals to replace those he’d lost, the WWII veteran and his family got a special museum tour and a look inside a B-24, the plane he flew in on so many missions over enemy territory.
When asked which of his many missions scared him the most, Kollenberg replied, “I was never scared and didn’t have anything to be afraid of.”