Freedoms Foundation at Valley Forge extends its deepest sympathies to the family and friends of Frank J. Horvath, a World War II veteran who for many years visited our campus and inspired hundreds of teachers and their students with his first-person accounts of heroism and sacrifice on the battlefields of France in 1944.
“Frank will be deeply missed,” said Eugene J. Halus Jr., vice president of education at Freedoms Foundation. “He was always generous with his time and talents, especially with educators, and was a dear friend of the foundation. He taught more by example than by words, and when he played his banjo it was always about more than simply playing music. It was always wrapped around stories of citizenship and his self-deprecating humor. Frank always thought we were the ones being generous by asking him to speak to teachers, but it was always the opposite. We were always grateful for his presence. We have lost a good and dear friend.”
Mr. Horvath was famous for his love of the banjo. He carried one with him when he shipped off to Europe during the Second World War.
“When I went onto the ship in Brooklyn I had it strapped to my back,” he told the Daily Local News in 2017, “and when I got off the ship in Liverpool headed for Normandy people were looking at me wondering, ‘What is this guy doing with an instrument strapped to his back?'”
Mr. Horvath was part of the 83rd Division when it landed on Omaha Beach 10 days after D-Day in June 1944. He was awarded two Bronze Stars and a Purple Heart for his service, among other medals, and just two years ago received France’s highest award for valor, the Legion of Honor Medal.
That last award was primarily for an action that took place on July 21, 1944, when Mr. Horvath, then a platoon leader, was confronting a concrete bunker occupied by German soldiers and French citizens. He told the Daily Local:
“I got my bazooka man to fire two shells, which had no effect because the walls were probably two feet thick. But it injured two of my soldiers through shrapnel because, for some reason, they were not in the right position.
“I noticed the steps going down with a steel door and I hollered in to them. They yelled back asking if we were going to shoot them.”
Mr. Horvath wasn’t going to fire on them, but a gun from inside went off and he was hit in the leg.
“I also heard French people inside that bunker,” he told the Daily Local. “Whether they were holding them as hostages, I have no idea. But I looked in there and then decided to cease all operations against this bunker. There was no way they could hurt us, and I figured in due time they would come to their senses, which they did. About three or four hours later the Germans decided to give up.”
His patience that day, he believed, led to being honored by France decades later. “I think the French government is awarding me their medal in honor for the fact that I did not order artillery on this bunker,” he told the newspaper in 2017, “which would probably have killed most of the people inside, which would have been French people, too.”
After the war, Mr. Horvath returned to Palmerton, where he and his wife, whom he met while studying music at Biarritz University in France, raised three daughters. He worked as a zinc machinist accountant and later for the U.S. Postal Service. He retired in 1984.
It was during those retirement years that he teamed up with Freedoms Foundation to share his memories with history teachers every summer. “The kids today have no idea what we went through to provide the education they have now,” he told the Daily Local.
Jessica Donnerbauer, a teacher from Wisconsin, fondly remembers hearing Mr. Horvath’s stories.
“Frank Horvath was an American treasure and I feel blessed to have met him at a teacher workshop at Freedoms Foundation,” Donnerbauer said. “Hearing his stories from WWII and listening to him play the banjo is an experience I will never forget. His devotion to our country will live on through my teaching as I will always share his stories with my students.”
A viewing is scheduled at the Campton Funeral Home, 525 Delaware Ave., Palmerton, on Thursday, Jan. 16, from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. Mass will be celebrated at Sacred Heart Catholic Church, 259 Lafayette Ave., Palmerton, after the viewing.