Jack W. Schlegel, born November 14, 1923, in Bremenhaven, Germany, died peacefully at home in Mount Tremper on June 11 at the age of 90. He had just returned from a 70th anniversary reunion in Normandy, France, with his remaining friends from the 82nd Airborne.
Schlegel came to the U.S. with his parents when he was seven. In 1942, he enlisted in the US Army, serving in the 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment. He received the Legion d’Honneur and three Purple Hearts for his role in battles that included the D-Day invasion. In a Woodstock Times interview last winter, he described his capture by the Germans and subsequent escape.
Schlegel’s unit parachuted into the countryside, skirmished with German forces until enemy tanks arrived, and were captured. At prisoner-of-war camps in Ste.-Chapelle-sur-Vie, Rheims, and Rennes, Schlegel, who spoke fluent German, served as interpreter between the prisoners and the camp administration.
When American forces were nearing Rennes, plans were made to evacuate the prisoners. Schlegel pleaded with the camp doctor to be allowed to stay behind and continue to help with the war effort. Displayed on the wall of the “war room” at Schlegel’s house was a typewritten pass signed by a Dr. Enziger. Schlegel recalled, “He told me, ‘If you should happen to find a pass on the table, you can get out through the gate.’ And that’s exactly what happened.”
After the war, Schlegel worked in New York City at a wholesale fur company managed by his father. One day, a call came from Henri Bendel, where Marlene Dietrich was asking for a sable coat. Schlegel, then a lowly sales manager, crossed town with furs to show Dietrich. She immediately recognized him from a meeting in Europe, when she was entertaining the troops in 1944. The sale to Dietrich boosted his status at the company.
Jack and his wife, Elaine, were married in 1948 and had two sons and a daughter. They visited the Catskills frequently, buying a cabin without plumbing in Mount Tremper for $3500 in 1949. Over the years, he fixed up the property, adding a pool and guest cottage.
When he retired in 1970, the couple moved upstate full-time. Elaine worked as a secretary at the medical clinic in Phoenicia, and Jack participated in the town government, serving as supervisor for two terms and heading the police force. He also owned and operated Schlegel Security Agency in Ulster County. He was a co-founder of the Ulster County Chiefs of Police and a life member of the 82nd Airborne Association, VFW, American Legion, and the Mount Tremper Fire Department.
In recent years, Jack remained physically and mentally active, doing all the cleaning to keep his house immaculate and maintaining strictly organized collections of oil paintings, books, stamps, war memorabilia, and German beer steins. He told the interviewer in December that he was still cutting down trees, and he was hooked on Turner Classic movies.
Jack and the late Elaine (Knapp) Schlegel lost their youngest son, Martin, to an accident while he was serving in the U.S. Navy. Jack is survived by his son George G. Schlegel of Boiceville; a daughter, Susan LaBudde of Cooperstown; and two granddaughters, Jennifer and Jessica LaBudde of Cooperstown.
No funeral service is scheduled, but mourners may light a candle in memory of Jack at www.KeyserCarr.com.