American flags flapped in the wind on a sunny day. A pilot circled above and dropped bouquets. A military band struck up the national anthem.

Hundreds of khaki-clad troops paraded into view while 3,000 spectators waited in crowded grandstands. When the audience spied the war hero, it erupted in applause.

Akron attorney Dwite Schaffner, the subject of the elaborate 1923 ceremony, marched onto the field and stood at attention in his U.S. Army uniform, which still fit nicely after five years. He was thankful to be alive after all that he had endured.

“It is probable that citizens in Akron may never again witness the spectacle of having a soldier-son of this city awarded the Medal of Honor,” the Akron Evening Times reported. “Only 105 have been granted during and since the World War, and the majority of these were for the ‘honored dead.’ ”

The American Legion promised that the service would be one of the most inspiring occasions in Akron’s history, and it did not disappoint. The event was held at Wooster Stadium, a Wooster Avenue sports complex later known as Lane Field.

Schaffner, 33, was honored “for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty in action against the enemy.” Brig. John R. McQuigg, a commanding officer in Europe, pinned the Medal of Honor to Schaffner’s chest. Afterward, the Akron crowd surged around the veteran to congratulate him.

A Pennsylvania native, Schaffner was a graduate of Bucknell University, where he was a captain of the football and basketball teams. He was studying law at the University of Michigan in 1917 when the U.S. entered the war.

He joined the Army, trained at Fort Niagara and Camp Upton, both in New York, and was commissioned as a first lieutenant in Company K, 306th Infantry, 77th Division. He sailed overseas in March 1918 and quickly learned that war is hell.

“The average peace-loving man will become vicious and merciless when herded together and pitted against the enemy,” Schaffner later said. “A soldier can kill in an instant with no qualms. That’s war.”

In muddy trenches of France, Schaffner experienced heavy fighting against German troops in Oise-Aisne, Meuse-Argonne, Champagne and Lorraine.

“The fighting was so close at times that the enemy came right up and tried to pull our men out of the trenches,” Schaffner recalled.

Battle scenes were forever seared into Schaffner’s memory. In addition to Army buddies killed in battle, he also remembered some of the German soldiers who fell.

“They were brave men,” Schaffner once told a reporter. “One, an old man, had been shot through the chest. He lay in the mud, calling out, ‘Verdammte krieg, verdammte krieg!’ — ‘the damned war, the damned war.’ Pretty soon, he died.

“And I can still see the sun shining on the bayonet of another German who had the drop on me, when one of my men got him. I don’t think I’ll ever forget how the sun shone on that steel. It glittered. It still glitters.”

He received the Medal of Honor for his actions Sept 28, 1918, near St. Hubert’s Pavilion in Boureuilles, France. According to the official citation signed by Gen. John J. Pershing, Schaffner led his men in an attack “through terrific enemy machine gun fire, rifle and artillery fire and drove the enemy from a strongly held entrenched position after hand-to-hand fighting.”

The Germans fought back in a series of furious counterattacks, pinning down Schaffner’s squadron and inflicting heavy casualties. Amid gunfire and explosions, Schaffner hunted down a German machine gun unit and “personally silenced” it.

The enemy crept closer and attacked from the front and back with pistols, rifles and grenades.

With his company under assault, Schaffner climbed the parapet of the trench, fired his pistol and threw grenades to kill several enemy soldiers, mortally wounding a German captain and dragging him back to the trench to secure “valuable information as to the enemy’s strength and position.”

Despite attacks on three sides, Schaffner’s men maintained their position for five hours until help arrived. Through “undaunted bravery, gallant soldierly conduct and leadership,” Schaffner “undoubtedly saved the survivors of the company from death or capture.”

Schaffner was in no mood to celebrate the armistice of Nov. 11, 1918.

“I was flat on my back in the base hospital at Allerey in the Argonne sector, and so sick from the effects of being gassed two weeks prior that I didn’t care a whoop if the war ended or not,” Schaffner recalled.

“I was able to understand what it meant, however, when I was told. I did not feel like cheering. I remember that I asked for a drink of champagne, not to celebrate, but because I was burning up with fever and champagne tasted good.”

After war

After five months in the hospital, Schaffner returned to the U.S. in April 1919 and resumed studies at Michigan. In 1920, he moved to Akron to join the law firm of Musser, Kimber & Huffman.

The war hero married Elma Bliss in 1923 at the Akron home of her parents, Charles and Grace Bliss. She was a cousin of Akron’s Ray Bliss, the future national chairman of the Republican Party.

The Schaffners welcomed two daughters, Marilyn and Evelyn, and enjoyed a peaceful life at their home on Grace Avenue. Schaffner practiced law at the Second National Building and served as local commander of American Legion and VFW posts and the Ohio commander of the VFW.

He hoped there would never be another war, but worried that politicians had other plans. One sad thing about war is that politicians don’t have to fight, Schaffner said.

“If those boys were put out in front, it wouldn’t be long before the white flag went up,” he said.

World War II

When the U.S. entered World War II, Schaffner rejoined the Army and served at the Tennessee Selective Service headquarters for 3½ years before being discharged as a lieutenant colonel.

He returned home to Akron and continued to practice law for another decade. On Nov. 22, 1955, he suffered a heart attack on the way to the Summit County Courthouse and died at Akron City Hospital. He was 66 years old.

“His bravery will live on,” eulogized the Rev. Royal A. Halladay as hundreds attended the funeral at First Methodist Church and burial at Rose Hill Cemetery in Fairlawn.

Mayor Leo Berg asked that all Akron residents pause at 2 p.m. for a silent prayer in memory of the Medal of Honor recipient.

“Mr. Schaffner was a man who believed his duty to his country did not end when he put on his uniform,” Berg said.

“He was always ready to do his part for his community and country in any way possible. He was the kind of Akronite and American of whom we can all be proud.”

Mark J. Price can be reached at 330-996-3850 or mjprice@thebeaconjournal.com.