ROANOKE — Former fighter pilot William Overstreet Jr., famous for flying beneath the arches of the Eiffel Tower while chasing a German aircraft during World War II, died Sunday at the age of 92.
Overstreet was awarded hundreds of medals for his service in the 357th squadron of the U.S. Army Air Forces, according to his obituary posted by Oakey’s Funeral Home. 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.
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’s most famous flight came while in solo pursuit of a German Messerschmitt Bf 109G flying into Nazi-occupied Paris. He maneuvered his plane beneath the arches of the Eiffel Tower, reigniting the spirit of the French Resistance troops on the ground.
One of those French Resistance fighters was the father of Bernard Marie. A French dignitary who has hosted D-Day events every year since 1984, Marie said he met Overstreet in 1994. He knew Overstreet was well-known for his flight underneath the Eiffel Tower but didn’t understand its true importance until he spoke with his father.
“My father began shouting at me — ‘I have to meet this man,’ ” Marie said. Members of the French Resistance had seen his flight and it inspired them, including Marie’s father, he said.
“This guy has done even more than what people are thinking,” Marie said. “He lifted the spirit of the French.”
Marie was born into Nazi-occupied France and remembers the Allied troops coming to his home to liberate his family, forever giving him an appreciation for American WWII veterans. It led to a friendship with Overstreet as soon as they met.
Marie said Overstreet “was a countryman and a wonderful man. He was very humble.”
After shyly accepting the Legion of Honor at the age of 88, Overstreet said, “If I said, ‘Thank you,’ it wouldn’t be enough,” but then added, “What more than ‘thank you’ do you need?”
According to his obituary, Overstreet returned from war and married Nita Brackens of Covington, who preceded him in death. He worked as an accountant until retiring at the age of 65, and then worked with numerous charities and veterans groups.
The family will receive friends from 4 to 7 p.m. Friday at Oakey’s Roanoke Chapel. Memorial services will be at 2 p.m. Saturday at Second Presbyterian Church in Roanoke, according to Oakey’s, with interment beforehand at 1 p.m. at Evergreen Burial Park.