June 6, 2019, marked the 75th anniversary of the D-Day invasion, the turning point of World War II. In honor of the day, University Archivist Kevin Leonard placed a flag at the grave of a Northwestern alumnus who died in France during the operation, but who is nonetheless buried in the Chicago suburb of Niles. Leonard filed this story about the sacrifice of Norbert Schwartz ’39.
With the men of his platoon, Norb Schwartz boarded a C-47 transport plane in the dark, late-night/early-morning hours of Dec. 5-6, 1944. As world war had drawn ever closer to the United States, Schwartz, in March 1941, had left his job as an advertising clerk with Butler Brothers, a Chicago-based wholesale and retail store, to enlist in the military. He had earned his first lieutenant’s silver bar and, after being assigned to Company B of the 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment, made ready for his jump into Normandy and into history.
Norbert Joseph Schwartz was born in Chicago on Feb. 5, 1919, the son of Stanley and Joan (Malecki) Schwartz. His was a religious family. Norb’s two sisters professed vows as Sisters of Providence. And he attended parochial elementary schools in Chicago, graduating from Our Lady of Victory and then DePaul Academy, a secondary school. Pursuing further education, Schwartz enrolled in Northwestern University’s School of Commerce in September 1939. At Northwestern, he was a gregarious student, joining Alpha Kappa Psi, a professional fraternity associated with business.
In the Army, Schwartz had joined the 508th, the Red Devils, an all-volunteer unit attached to the 82nd Airborne Division for Operation Neptune, the first fighting associated with Overlord, the massive invasion of Western Europe by Allied forces. Activated in late 1942, the Red Devils had trained in the United States and, later, in Ireland before taking up pre-invasion encampments centered on Nottinghamshire, England. Schwartz was an assistant platoon leader and his unit was assigned the task of destroying German-held supply bridges and holding roads and causeways leading to Utah Beach. The work was vital but incredibly dangerous, dropping into enemy territory in the dark of night and under heavy fire.
The stories of the Red Devils and other airborne units are well known. They took heavy casualties on D-Day and in the ensuing weeks, as Allied-held territory expanded from beachheads into Normandy. From its full strength of 2,056, the 508th suffered more than 1,000 killed, wounded, and missing by the time the regiment cycled back to England for rest and recuperation. Norb Schwartz was among the thousands killed on D-Day. He died during the invasion’s first hours, his body discovered and identified after daylight on June 6th.
After the war ended, his parents requested repatriation of his body and Norb lies buried in St. Adalbert Cemetery, Niles, Illinois, not far from the family’s Chicago home.
Norb Schwartz was 25 at the time of his death. He left behind his parents and two sisters, all now gone. But Norb is remembered at Northwestern and his legacy rests in the victories at Normandy and beyond.
—Kevin Leonard, University Archivist