Carnegie Medal awardee Gale O. Shreffler of Plum, Pa., who died May 31, 2014, at 90, was a certified hero in both war and peace. He compiled an impressive record as a lieutenant in the U.S. Army Air Forces during World War II, during which he was awarded a Purple Heart, and upon resuming civilian life after the war he was awarded the Carnegie Medal for saving a small neighbor boy from a house fire.
But more so, he was a devoted father and grandfather, according to his daughter, Linda Sundin of Monroeville, Pa. “He was humble; he would do anything for anyone,” Sundin told the writer of his obituary. Shreffler stepped in as father figure to Sundin’s son when the boy’s father died.
Shreffler was a teenager when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941. Telling his father that he could not swim far, he opted for the Army Air Forces rather than the Navy and served as a navigator, flying numerous B-29 bombing runs over Japan. He received the Purple Heart for injuries suffered when his plane crashed on Iwo Jima. None of the crew was lost.
In keeping with his character, Sundin said, Shreffler packaged up the medal and sent it off to a veteran who thought he should have received a Purple Heart but did not.
Shreffler’s award of the Carnegie Medal came in 1961. Then an accountant for National Tube Co., a subsidiary of U.S. Steel Corp., Shreffler was at his family’s home in Pittsburgh in the early afternoon of Sunday, March 19 of that year, when he heard an explosion at his neighbor’s two-story brick house. Gas that had leaked into the structure exploded, buckling its walls and setting fire to it. Shreffler and another neighbor, Albert Collins, responded to the scene, forced entry, and proceeded to the second floor, where they found their neighbor woman and her two children, 3 and 10, in a bedroom. Shreffler carried the younger child downstairs and outside to safety, followed by Collins, leading the older child and her mother. Collins was also awarded the medal.
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