BYRON – He fought overseas during World War II, came face to face with the enemy, and nearly met the business end of a German soldier’s weapon, and he survived it all.
But it was the firefight that Staff Sgt. Gene Sabin faced on the home front that proved to be a battle he couldn’t win.
That is, until the reinforcements were called in: his family.
Last week, they finally declared victory in their mission to see that the late patriarch from Byron was officially honored for his actions during the war, almost 74 years after he served his nation.
Sabin’s family was finally given his wartime decorations Dec. 17 by U.S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger at his Ottawa office.
The Republican from Channahon delivered the medals to Sabin’s grandson, Mike Schabacker of Stillman Valley, in a ceremony attended by several family members.
Kinzinger presented him with Sabin’s Bronze Star with an Oak Leaf Cluster pin denoting a second award of the same medal, as well as campaign medals, good conduct medal, World War II victory medal, and Combat Infantryman’s Badge.
Sabin, who died in 1984, had tried in vain to get the Bronze Star, but his service records were among the millions lost in the 1973 fire at the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis.
Schabacker said that after his grandmother died, family members found a letter Sabin had written, asking about the honors he had never received.
That’s when his family stepped in. Schabacker contacted Kinzinger’s office to see what could be done.
Although most of his service records had been destroyed, a few partial records were located.
“They were able to establish he was awarded two Bronze Stars for heroic action,” Schabacker said.
Bill Lenches, executive director and curator of the 12th Armored Division Museum in Abilene, Texas, also provides information about Sabin’s service.
“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, who was born in Sycamore in 1920, was drafted into the Army when he was 22. Though still young, he was nicknamed “Pops” because he was older than many of his other fellow soldiers.
She said her father didn’t talk about his wartime experiences with his family, only with his service buddies at annual reunions of the 12th Armored Division.
While the full story of Sabin’s actions may never be known, his family can close the book on at least one chapter of their wartime hero’s story.
“I was very excited we were able to get it straightened out,” Mike Schabacker said. “It’s official now.”
– Charles Stanley
of the Ottawa Times contributed to this story.