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
Thomas Harold Schuller, 86
Air Force – Korean War Era
Thomas Harold Schuller was born in St. Barnabas Hospital, Minneapolis, on Armistice Day. Tom was one of five siblings. When Tom was 2 years old, his mother died of scarlet fever. With the death of his mother and the family in the throes of the Great Depression, Tom’s father placed Tom and his four siblings in an orphanage. This was not an all uncommon painful choice imposed on families at that time.
Tom was placed at the St. Cloud Orphanage – later to be called the St. Cloud Children’s Home. Even though Tom was placed with his siblings, he had little contact with them while living there. Tom’s dad visited as much as he could.
When Tom was 5 years old, having lived at the St Cloud Orphanage for the better part of three years, his father was told that technically Tom and his siblings were not orphans. They would have to leave. They were subsequently transferred to Lady of the Angels Academy in Bell Prairie – Little Falls. Under the tutelage of the Franciscan Nuns, Tom remained there until he was 9 years old.
While at Our Lady of the Angels Academy, Tom recalls going on a field trip to an old abandoned saw mill. The date of that particular excursion was 11-11-1940. (The day of the great Armistice Day blizzard which was also his 8th birthday) Tom recalls being led out of this blinding blizzard while all the kids held on to the child in front as they were led to safety by Sister Joan of Arc.
Tom’s father married Lily, a woman 20 years younger than Tom’s father. As a result all the children returned home to a family life in Minneapolis. Tom is forever most appreciative of this young woman for her taking on the responsibilities of “”mothering” five needy children. In fond regard Tom descries Lily as “a most wonderful . . .a great woman.”
Transitioning from Our Lady of the Angels Academy to a public school in North Minneapolis was not without its adjustments.: such as initially referring to his new teacher with “Yes, Sister.”
In those days everyone in the family was called upon to help out financially. Tom worked at several jobs: being a caddie, setting pins in a bowling alley and working at Tastee Bread in Minneapolis.
At age 15, Tom loaded newspaper bundles on trucks for the Minneapolis Star and Tribune. It was hard work.
At age 15, Tom also bought a 1935 Plymouth for $35. He had no driver’s license, no insurance, nor the permission of his father. Tom parked his car a block away from home to hide the car. He did not have the car for very long as it “blew up” on him.
Shortly after graduating from high school, Tom and three friends took a two-week canoe trip to the Canadian Wilderness. While in Canada they were told at a remote fly-in resort that the United States was at war in Korea (June 25, 1950). Upon returning to the United States, Tom wanted to enlist immediately. Tom was only 17 years old and needed his father’s permission. His father did not give that permission. Tom’s father was not willing to co-sign for his enlistment because two of Tom’s older brothers were already in the Army and the Navy.
Tom had to wait until he was 18 years old. When Tom turned 18, he tried to enlist in the Navy, but they reportedly had “a backlog of some sort” and that represented a substantial delay in Tom’s wanting to join the war effort. On Jan. 9, 1951, he subsequently enlisted in the Air Force for four years.
Tom was initially sent to Lackland Air Force Base, San Antonio, Texas, for basic training. From there he was sent to aircraft mechanics school. From there Tom went to GaryAir Force Base, San Marcos, Texas, for further training in helicopter mechanics.
It was during the Korean War that some of the first practical uses of the helicopter, in an active battle zone, were realized.
Tom spent the remainder of his enlistment at Gary Air Force Base, Texas. It was there at Gary that all helicopter pilot trainees learned how to fly these new aircraft. Aside from his responsibilities on the flight line he was called upon to go out into the surrounding countryside and retrieve a crashed helicopter. With Tom’s enlistment concluded, he was honorably discharged on Jan. 8, 1955.
Upon returning home to Minnesota, Tom, now 22 years old, was understandably uncertain as to specific life goals and career aspirations. A buddy convinced Tom they both should enroll in a chiropractic college. So with his GI Bill educational benefits, Tom and his friend enrolled in the Northwestern Chiropractic College in Minneapolis. It just so happened that his buddy washed out within a week. Tom pursued additional post-graduate training at the Palmer College in Davenport, Iowa.
In 1958 Tom started his practice in Lakewood, Colorado. A love of mountains and skiing, it just seemed like a natural fit at the time.
Upon returning to the St. Cloud area, Tom married Eileen in October 1960. They were married for 29 years before her death in 1989.
Later Tom married Luann. They have also been married 29 years. Luann continues to work at CentraCare as part of fundraising.
Tom retired at 62; that was 24 years ago. Reflecting upon his long career Tom says: “I loved my profession and my patients, but not the paper work.”
Tom has four children, 17 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
Since retirement Tom keeps occupied with volunteerism and biking. Always an active person, Tom recalls with fondness his traveling on a motorcycle to 48 of the U.S. states, as well as Mexico and all Canadian Provinces.
At age 86, Tom stills enjoys reasonably good health.