Schindler served in Tokyo at the end of WWII

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The American Legion is celebrating its 100th birthday in 2019. In addition to national and statewide activities commemorating this milestone, American Post 328 of St. Joseph is planning a number of festive and patriotic activities for the community.  

One of those special events will be profiles of St. Joseph-area veterans published in each Newsleader during 2019. The Newsleader is joining with Post 328 to recognize veterans and Legion members who served during World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan and other theaters of conflict and Cold War tensions.

by Tom Klecker

John Frank Schindler, 94, U.S. Army, World War II era.

John Schindler was born at home on the family farm in St. Wendel Township. The milk cows, hogs and chickens helped support the family during the Great Depression.

Schindler attended a country school then transferred to the St. Joseph Lab School from which he graduated. Like most farm boys, he had to work hard. Schindler’s father died at age 45 from a ruptured appendix leaving behind eight children and a wife. He was only 6 years old at the time. When his older brothers and sisters reached 14 they were expected to find work, which often necessitated moving away. Not only did Schindler have chores at home, but he hired out to do fieldwork for neighbors. One particular neighbor not only farmed, but he owned and operated a small trucking company.

Despite not being old enough for a driver’s license, and never having driven a motor vehicle, the neighbor taught Schindler how to drive. Within a short while, he was hauling grain and livestock.

Upon reflecting on the depression years, Schindler recalls most everyone was experiencing poverty.

Between his parents, three brothers and four sisters, the only thing not lacking was a strong work ethic.

The farm had neither electricity nor indoor plumbing. Any water came from the pump that in winter was subject to freezing up.

At the age of 20, Schindler got his draft notice to report for an induction physical at Fort Snelling. He served his Basic Training at Fort Livingston, Louisiana, an Army base originally built in 1835. After completing basic infantry training, Schindler was sent to Camp Adair near Corvallis, Oregon. He was specifically trained in the use of the flame thrower (aka the Red Dragon). The flame thrower had an effective range of 65 feet and was used primarily to flush out an enemy hiding in caves or trenches.

Schindler recalls the flame thrower weighed about 56 pounds and contained seven gallons of high-octane aviation fuel.

Schindler, anticipating an invasion of the Japanese home islands, was awaiting orders at the large army staging camp, Camp Stoneman, California.

Shortly after the surrender of Japan (Aug. 15, 1945), Schindler boarded the USS Sea Witch destination, Tokyo, Japan. The travel time was usually 12 days crossing. However, after a few days at sea, the ship encountered an unexpected massive typhoon. The 1,700 soldiers were restricted to their compartments well below deck. The waves were so tempestuously high they reportedly washed over the top of the ship.

Prolonged seasickness was the norm. The ship finally anchored in Tokyo Bay 21 days after its departure from the United States. 

According to Schindler’s recollection, all that stood erect in Tokyo were the chimneys. In night bombings operations conducted by the Army Air Corp (March 9-10, 1945), the incendiary ordinance dropped on Tokyo resulted in the most destructive bombing raid in history, arguably exceeding the casualties of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima or Nagasaki (Aug. 6-9, 1945).

While in Japan, Schindler was assigned to the 77th Infantry Division. He became a driver-gunner on an M-18 tank. Schindler was part of the occupation forces now under the command of Gen. Douglas MacArthur. The $80-a month pay he earned as an overseas buck sergeant was sent home to his mother as the family continued to be in dire need.

Schindler, not having enough points to immediately come home, was transferred to the First Cavalry Division and assigned to the motor pool. As a point of trivia, Schindler shared how one of his military ambulances from the motor pool transported Tojo (politician and general of the Imperial Japanese Army) to a hospital after his self-inflicted gunshot wound.  Having survived an attempted suicide, Tojo was later hung as a war criminal in 1948.

With enough points, Schindler returned to the United States on the USS General Black. Arriving at long last at Camp Beale, California, he received his discharge. Schindler took a train to Fort Snelling and a bus to St. Cloud – a place just a few years previously he was not sure he would ever see again.  It was 1946.

All four Schindler boys served in the military at one time or another.

Upon arriving back home, Schindler was employed by Gohman Construction as a mason and carpenter. After some time, he commenced a 30-year career with the Great Northern-Burlington Northern Railroad.

Working at the Waite Park Car Shops, Schindler made many friends throughout the years. As a carman-welder, he, “…very much enjoyed building boxcars.”  At one time Schindler and the other 500 railroad workers employed there made 22 boxcars a day. Schindler finished out his tenure with the railroad at the Havelock Shops in Lincoln, Nebraska.

After returning from military service, he met his wife, Evelyn, at the VFW Club. They married in 1956. Schindler and Evelyn have been married for 63 years. They were blessed with three daughters, a son, six grandchildren and a great-granddaughter.

As a younger man, Schindler enjoyed fishing and hunting up at his cabin near Big Falls.

For 30 years he was a volunteer firefighter. Reflecting on his years with the St. Joseph Fire Department he shared the following. Back when Schindler signed on with the fire department, the city was one mile in diameter. The fire station was in the middle of town. When the fire call went out, firefighters responded with their hook-and-ladder hose wagon (fire cart).

Similar to carts perhaps seen in old-time movies, the cart had two wheels (4 feet in diameter).  Two very able men would pull and two in back would push the cart to the fire’s location.

It was not until 1949 that St. Joseph got its first firetruck. A second firetruck was delivered in 1951. Schindler said; “however the water hydrants and underground pipes built by the WPA during the Depression functioned very well.  There were so many chimney fires from people burning wood.”

Schindler assures us for a 94-year-old man he is in fairly good health. He looks forward to living in his current home a bit longer. A home he built after retiring from the railroad.

John Schindler during World War II.

John Schindler

Author: Mike Knaak

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