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In the spring of 1944, William Overstreet Jr. was flying his P-51C fighter plane over the skies of Nazi-occupied Paris, hot on the tail of a German Messerschmitt Bf 109G.
The World War II dogfight was going Overstreet’s way, and the German’s tailfeathers were on fire, when suddenly the Nazi pilot, in a last-ditch effort to shake his pursuer, ducked his plane beneath the arches of the Eiffel Tower.
Overstreet didn’t flinch.
Pushing the stick down, Overstreet dove, chasing the German right beneath the belly of the Eiffel. Overstreet’s P-51C “Berlin Express” kept firing, downed the German plane, then roared its engine and flew off, barely clearing the narrow gap.
French forces watching in amazement on the ground later said it was a pivotal moment in turning the tide against the German occupation.
French dignitary Bernard Marie recently told Virginia’s Roanoke Times his father remembered the moment and testified of Overstreet, “This guy has done even more than what people are thinking. He lifted the spirit of the French.”
Overstreet flew hundreds of missions and was highly decorated for his service in the 357th squadron of the U.S. Army Air Forces, according to his obituary posted by Oakey’s Funeral Home of Roanoke, Va. The World War II hero passed away on Dec. 29th at the age of 92.
One of his greatest honors was receiving France’s Legion of Honor from the French ambassador to the United States in 2009 at the National D-Day Memorial in Bedford, Va.
At the ceremony, the French ambassador said Overstreet led “some of the most heroic actions that we have ever heard of” during the liberation of France.
Overstreet had previously said, according to a Sunday World report, that if he lived long enough to receive the Legion of Honor, he would be accepting it in memory of his fallen brothers.
After the award was pinned to his lapel, Overstreet declared, “If I said, ‘Thank you,’ it wouldn’t be enough.”
After the war ended, London’s Daily Mail reports, Overstreet went on to teach gunnery school in Pinellas, Florida. After he was released from active duty, he continued serving in the Reserves.
“He was a fighter, he was always a perfect gentlemen. He was concise, focused with a delightful sense of humor and a twinkle in his eyes,” Overstreet’s niece, Anne Mason Keller, told the Mail. “He was always humble. Whenever the press interviewed him, he said, ‘I didn’t do anything, we were a team.'”