MORE than 70 years after Jaroslav Novak fled his native Czechoslovakia,only one step ahead of the Nazis, his brave actions have finally been recognised.
Colonel Novak, a resident at Bonnells Bay's Bayside Aged Care, was awarded yesterday the Czech Republic's highest military honour, the Cross of Ministry of Defence, for his contribution to the Allied forces in World War II.
Colonel Novak, 89, fled his homeland in 1940, aged 18, after the Nazi invasion.
Determined to fight the fascists he fled, he narrowly avoided death at the hands of the Gestapo in Hungary before volunteering to fight as part of the doomed defence of Paris.
Fleeing to England after the fall of France, he enlisted as a navigator with the Royal Air Force, and in January 1943 joined the famous Czechoslovakian-manned Number 311 Bomber Squadron. He flew more than 40 combat missions with the squadron, most with his unofficial mascot, Bobby the hare.
"It's an honour," Colonel Novak said of the medal.
But he dismissed any talk of him being a hero and said he was just an "ordinary man" doing a job.
Because of the persecution and suspicion veterans faced in Czechoslovakia after the war, yesterday's medal is long overdue, Sydney's consul-general of the Czech Republic Vit Kolar said.
The Cross of Ministry of Defence, created in 2008, succeeds the Czechoslovak War Cross 1939-1945 medal.