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Bronze Star awarded to family of Byron soldier

The family of a Byron World War II veteran finally received his decorations for bravery last week, almost 74 years after he earned them.

Staff Sergeant Gene Sabin was honored during a ceremony held Dec. 17 at the U.S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger’s office in Ottawa.

Kinzinger presented Sabin’s award, a Bronze Star with an Oak Leaf Cluster pin denoting a second award of the same medal, to his grandson Mike Schabacker, of Stillman Valley, while several other family members watched. 

He also presented Sabin’s campaign medals, good conduct medal, World War II victory medal and Combat Infantryman’s Badge to the family.

Kinzinger explained that Sabin’s service records were among the millions of files lost in the 1973 fire at the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis.

Born in Sycamore in 1920, Sabin lived most of his life in Byron, and died in 1984.

Schabacker said that after his grandmother died, family members found a letter Sabin had written, asking about the Bronze Stars he had never received.

He then contacted Kinzinger to see if anything could be done.

Although most of the records were destroyed, a few partial records were located, Schabacker said.

“They were able to establish he was awarded two Bronze Stars for heroic action,” he said. “I was very excited we were able to get it straightened out — it’s official now.”

While there are no records of Sabin’s decorations, Bill Lenches, the executive director and curator of the 12th Armored Division Museum in Abilene, Texas, provided some information.

“Gene Sabin served as a squad leader in the 3rd Platoon of B Company, 66th Armored Infantry Battalion,” he said. “One of his fellow members of the 66th anecdotally recalls that (one decoration) was awarded for action in the Vosges Mountains (in France) most probably during the 12th Armored’s participation in the Colmar Pocket operation in February of 1945.

“According to George O’Bryan of the 66th, when one of Gene’s men spotted a German soldier taking aim at him, Gene, instead of immediately firing or seeking cover, shouted … to the soldier words to the effect that if he did not drop his weapon he would be shot. This led to the German’s immediate surrender, followed swiftly by the capture of his entire patrol.”

Sabin’s daughter, Sharon Schabacker, said her father was drafted into the Army when he was 22, causing him to be nicknamed “Pops” due to his age in relation to the younger soldiers.

After the war, she said, her father would never talk about his experiences with him family — only with his wartime buddies at annual reunions of the 12th Armored Division.

Charles Stanley of the Ottawa Times contributed to this story.

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