BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — Clayton Bihl celebrated a milestone birthday the way many people would, with a party populated by family and friends. But on Saturday in Williamsville’s Island Park, the 100-year-old World War II veteran received a birthday gift that is far from typical.
Bihl, a lifelong Western New Yorker who served in the European theater during World War II, was presented with military service medals that he earned as a sergeant in the U.S. Army 80 years ago.
“There are quiet heroes among us, veterans like Sergeant Bihl who put their lives on the line to defend American freedom and returned to a humble, good life at home,” Congressman Brian Higgins, whose office worked with the U.S. Army’s records center to have the medals verified and sent in time for the party, said in a media release. “We are eternally grateful for his service to this country in the United States military and to this community as a teacher. We join his family in wishing First Sergeant Bihl a happy 100th birthday.”
Bihl was presented with a Good Conduct Medal, a European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with 2 bronze service stars, a World War II Victory Medal, an Honorable Service Lapel and a Sharpshooter Badge with Rifle Bar. In addition, a flag was flown over the U.S. Capitol in his honor.
According to a media release from the office of New York State Assemblywoman Karen McMahon, who was on hand at the celebration to issue a proclamation in his honor, Bihl was drafted into the Army in 1943, serving as a gunner and platoon leader with the 103rd Infantry Division and going on to earn the rank of First Sergent.
“Clay’s story of service and sacrifice is extraordinary. From landing in Europe just ahead of the pivotal Battle of the Bulge, to crossing into Nazi-occupied Germany as the Allies closed in, to liberating a sub-camp of the notorious Dachau concentration camp, Clay and the veterans of World War II are truly heroes,” McMahon said. “I’m proud to have had the opportunity to honor Mr. Bihl for his remarkable service to our nation and on the joyous occasion of his 100th birthday.”
Bihl served in the final two campaigns in the European theater: the Rhineland campaign and the Central Europe campaign. During the war, he served in France, Germany and Austria. He was honorably discharged in 1952.
After returning home, Bihl earned a bachelor’s and master’s degree in math from Canisius College, then become a teacher at Bennett High School in Buffalo.
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Justin McMullen is a Western New York native who joined the News 4 team in 2023. You can read more of his work here.