‘My own decisions’ - Veteran served as Navy corpsman while assigned to Marine Corps in Japan
In his rustic home situated on 66 acres of woodland in rural Moniteau County, Richard Schroeder shared many chuckles while discussing the circumstances that led him into service with both the Navy and Marine Corps … more than sixty years earlier. A 1950 graduate of Jefferson City High School, Schroeder explained that serving in the military was never his ambition while attending the Kansas City Art Institute.
“Back then, my future mother-in-law was the clerk for the draft board (in Jefferson City),” said Schroeder, 84, California. She said that if I was thinking of enlisting, I had better go ahead and do it.”
Schroeder and a friend decided to visit their local recruiting office to avoid being drafted. At first, they intended to enlist in the Marine Corps, but when the line for the Navy began moving faster, they decided to switch lines. Enlisting in October 1951, Schroeder completed his boot camp at the Naval Training Center in San Diego with hopes of serving aboard submarines; instead, the Navy decided that his services could be utilized as a corpsman—enlisted medical specialists able to provide emergency care in a field environment.
“They sent me to Bainbridge (Maryland) Naval Training Center for hospital corpsman school,” said Schroeder. “I had no desire to be a corpsman because all I could think about was (patients) puking and all of that stuff,” he laughed. “So I tried to flunk out of the training by failing all of my tests.”
After months of training, the former sailor humorously noted, he graduated second from the bottom of his class. Returning to Jefferson City on leave, he married his fiancée, Carole Schreen, in July 1952. He and his wife then returned to Bainbridge where Schroeder was assigned to an eye, ear, nose and throat clinic. Although he helped perform routine exams and assist with minor surgeries, one event demonstrated to him the dangers present with many forms of medical care.
“I was assisting a doctor with a bronchoscopy and the doctor sprayed the patient with Pontocaine (topical anesthetic),” Schroeder recalled. “The guy’s heart stopped and the doctor cut him open to massage his heart, but his hands were too big for the procedure. I had to stick my hands in and do it myself.” Solemnly, he added, “The patient did not make it. That was a very traumatic experience for me.”
The young corpsman soon discovered all sailors were required to perform sea duty or complete a tour in an overseas location, resulting in orders attaching him to the Fleet Marine Force—a landing force comprised of U.S. Marines and supported by elements of the Navy, including corpsman.
“I spent some time in training at Camp Pendleton (California) and attended what was basically a shortened Marine boot camp,” he said. “Then I took field medical training, learning to deal with trauma injuries such as shock, head injuries and amputations. Also,” he continued, “we were issued Marine uniforms.”
He became a member of the Third Marine Division and traveled by troopship to Japan. Following his two-week journey across the ocean, Schroeder, as part of “Easy” (E) Medical Company, was attached to a headquarters unit stationed in an outpost near Nara, Japan; which, he described, was “in the middle of nowhere and surrounded by rice paddies.” During the next year, he applied his medical training in a quite unexpected fashion.
“The job I was assigned was venereal disease (VD),” he soberly remarked. “The (Marines) would come in with an issue and I would have to take a sample to be tested to determine if a VD or something else was causing their problems.”
His duties, he noted, also required him to accompany a Japanese doctor and three Japanese police officers on weekly visits to local “establishments” to determine where the men were acquiring their ailments.
“In Japan, prostitution was legal and the government was very good at keeping everything clean,” he said. “Each prostitute was given a government card with a number on it and each month they had to have a physical exam.”
Also participating in regular military training maneuvers as a medic supporting amphibious landings and battle simulations, Schroeder completed his overseas tour in the summer of 1954, returning to the United States to reunite with his wife and meet his 9-month-old son.
Schroeder completed his enlistment at a clinic on New Orleans Naval Station, receiving his discharge in September 1954. He then moved his family to Columbia where he enrolled in the University of Missouri, using his GI Bill benefits to earn his bachelor’s degree in education.
In the years following his discharge, his family grew in size to three sons and a daughter. He was hired as an agent with the Missouri Department of Conservation in 1960 and went on to retire from the agency with 30 years of service.
Reflecting on his brief military career—one with many interesting and unexpected deviations—Schroeder said that he has since benefitted from the training he received, albeit in a specialty he initially viewed as objectionable.
“Although I first wanted to serve on submarines, because of the education that I received in first aid and healthcare, I was able to get a job while in college at the MU Medical Center—that really helped me support my family,” he said. Had I been in the submarines, I would never have earned these skills,” he added.
“But, looking back,” he paused, “the best part of it all was the way it helped me grow up—I got away from my parents and all of those who regulated my activities as a young person and learned to make my own decisions.”
Jeremy P. Ämick writes on behalf of the Silver Star Families of America.
Blue Star Memorials - Local garden clubs strive to honor veterans through memorial program
In 1946, the National Council of State Garden Clubs adopted a momentous venture designated as the “Blue Star Memorial Highway Program,” which was modeled after a project in New Jersey designed to honor the men and women of the armed forces who had only recently returned from service during World War II.
As the program began to unfold on a national scale, it expanded with support of local gardening clubs throughout the country. Under the auspices of what became the National Garden Clubs, Inc., the group “enlarged its mission in 1951 to include all men and women who had served,” as noted in the “Guidelines for Blue Star Memorial Markers.”
The key component of the program was the purchase of memorial markers that were—and continue to be—placed at parks, civic and historical grounds, and along various highways throughout the United States.
“We are up to 90 markers in Missouri,” said Cynthia Brodersen, who has for the last several years served as the Blue Star Memorials chair for the Federated Garden Clubs of Missouri, Inc. (a member of the National Garden Clubs, Inc.), with 125 affiliated local garden clubs throughout the state.
A member of The Grow and Glow Garden Club in Tipton, Broderson explained that although her involvement with the Blue Star Memorial Marker program came unexpectedly, it has provided her with the opportunity to honor her three uncles who served in the military, one of whom was killed during the Battle of the Bulge.
“I was familiar with the marker that is in Otterville and my husband actually attended its original dedication in 1950,” she said. “Back in 2006, the community was preparing for a re-dedication of the marker. At that time, the previous (state) chair was experiencing some health problems and asked me if I would be willing to take over.” She added, “I have really found it to be a very worthwhile cause and one that I am proud to be involved with.”
With five markers now rising above beautifully landscaped flowerbeds in Jefferson City alone—the most recent of which was dedicated on the grounds of Lincoln University late last year—Missouri has served as host to Blue Star Memorials since the placement of the first marker in 1949.
“Three hundred members of the Missouri Federation of Garden Clubs and a few special guests attended the dinner and program given Thursday afternoon in the Highway Gardens at the fairgrounds,” noted the August 26, 1949 edition of The Sedalia Democrat.
During the program, the newspaper article explained, Mrs. J.E. Dvorak, who was at the time national chair of the Blue Star Memorial Program—touted “the work being done by the Missouri Garden Clubs in bringing the Missouri Blue Star Memorial Highway through Missouri.”
Located in Bradford Roadside Park about six miles west of Sedalia, the website of the Federated Garden Clubs of Missouri states the memorial was stolen in 2011. However, a new marker has since been placed near the intersection of U.S. Highway 50 and State Fair Boulevard in Sedalia, said Broderson.
Although the expense of markers continues to rise, Broderson said that the entire cost of these tributes oftentimes develops into a project supported by the community in which they are to be located.
“Back when Otterville first got their marker (in 1950), there was a lady that went around to all of the local basketball games and collected quarters to help pay for it,” she said. “We (garden clubs) have also helped cover the costs of some of the markers through our fundraisers, along with donations from community businesses and veterans’ organizations,” she added.
Jefferson City resident Jeanne Schwaller, who has been actively involved with the placement of several markers locally, stated that in addition to being a member of both the Bittersweet Garden Club and the Capital Garden Club, enjoys sharing the history of the program and facilitating its growth to other communities throughout Mid-Missouri.
Discussing the program’s history on the local level, Schwaller stated that the first marker in the Jefferson City community was dedicated in a roadside park once located near the Capital Mall, but during the mall’s construction in the late 1970s, the marker was moved to make room for expansion of roads in the area. The memorial, sponsored by the former Hawthorn Garden Club, eventually found a home at the roadside park across from Steak ‘n Shake on Missouri Boulevard; however, according to Jefferson City Parks and Recreation, will soon be re-dedicated at a location inside Washington Park, less than two miles away.
Emphasizing a viewpoint shared by many who remain active with the Blue Star Memorial program, Schwaller explained that her family’s history of military service has been an inspiration for her continued involvement with the garden clubs’ initiatives to honor the memory of all local veterans.
“My husband served during World War II and was one of three boys—all who served during the war,” she said. “All three of them were fortunate enough to return home and programs (such as the Blue Star Memorials) help ensure their service is always remembered.”
For more information on the Federated Garden Clubs of Missouri, Inc. and the Blue Star Memorial Markers, please visit www.fgcmo.org.
Jeremy P. Amick writes on behalf of the Silver Star Families of America.
Credit shared - Local veteran shares story of service aboard USS California in WWII
There is certainly no shortage of credit that can be shared when honoring the men and women of the “Greatest Generation,” who have donated both their time and resources to help bring victory to the Allied forces in World War II. Most ironic, however, is the hesitancy of those who sacrificed the greatest in accepting any accolades for their individual efforts during the conflict.
“I really didn’t do anything special (during the war),” said J.R. Goff, 90, Jefferson City. “There were so many people—such as the women who helped build (Navy) ships—that have never received the recognition they deserve.”
Raised in several small Missouri communities, Goff was attending high school when he decided to leave his studies in 1943 and enlist in the Navy, thinking he “knew everything there was to know.” He added, “I wanted to go get on one of them ships and join the fight. I don’t really know why … I just wanted to get out there in the middle of it and boy did I ever,” he chuckled.
The 17-year-old recruit traveled to Farragut, Idaho, for several weeks of basic training—a site, which, according to the Idaho Military Museum, trained 293,381 recruits while in operation from 1942 to 1946. (The Farragut Naval Training Station is now part of Farragut State Park.) Without any specialized training other than that he received at Farragut, Goff was transferred to the naval yard at Puget Sound, Wash., in the summer of 1943 to prepare for assignment to the USS California (BB-44)—a battleship that was undergoing a major reconstruction after incurring damage during the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor.
“There were about 160 women that were working on that ship doing welding and all kinds of work like that, but that’s not something they really ever got credit for,” the veteran explained.
In early 1944, the ship was deemed seaworthy and departed for a shakedown cruise, during which time Goff received on-the-job training in a capacity that would help defend the vessel.
“I served as the first loader on one of the quad 40 mm guns,” he said. The weapon, he explained, was a single gun mount with four 40 mm barrels attached and a loader assigned to each barrel.
With the shakedown cruise behind them, the ship set sail for the Western Pacific where they participated in shore bombardment missions near Saipan. On June 14, 1944, Goff recalled, a shell from an enemy gun battery struck the USS California, resulting in the death of one sailor and wounding of several others.
“When that happened,” said Goff, “they turned the big 16-inch guns toward the shore and blew that enemy gun to pieces!”
Whether by luck or skill, the crew avoided significant damage during this incident; however, the vessel would encounter a more deadly situation in January 1945 while providing shore bombardment at Lingayen Gulf in the Philippines.
“We were on General Quarters (all hands to battle stations) because there were Japanese planes attacking the ships in our group,” Goff said. “One of the planes hit us and exploded … it burned to death my fourth loader,” he solemnly remarked. “I used to hate even talking about that day because I lost so many of my friends.”
According to online naval records, the kamikaze attack resulted in the death of 44 crewmembers with an estimated 155 wounded.
“We really didn’t even have time to clean up from the attack,” Goff continued. “If I remember correctly, we were on General Quarters for three days or so.”
In mid-February 1945, the ship returned to Puget Sound to undergo repairs from the damage sustained in the kamikaze attack. The young sailor had acquired enough points to qualify for a discharge, but while awaiting his release at San Francisco, he volunteered to extend briefly his service and was assigned to an attack transport named the USS President Hayes (APA-20).
“The Hayes made a run to the South Pacific to pick up some soldiers—I think we were gone three or four weeks,” Goff said. “On the way home, I remember that some of the soldiers got so sick they begged us to shoot them,” he jokingly added.
The battle-tested sailor ultimately received his discharge in February 1946 and returned to Missouri. Goff went to work for U.S. Steel in St. Louis and retired in the early 1970s after more than 30 years with the company. He was later employed as a corrections officer at Algoa Prison in Jefferson City, where he remained for another 15 years. Married to Geraldine (Gerry) in 1957, the father of five children now enjoys sharing the quiet life with his wife at a local retirement community, asserting that although he views his military service to have been of little significance in the grand scheme of the war, it did award him with many abiding memories.
“The Navy taught me to do what I was told,” he grinned, adding, “Yes, sir! No, sir!—and all that kind of stuff that will keep you out of trouble.”Smiling, he concluded, “When I enlisted, I was just another young kid that thought he knew everything there was to know, but I soon found out differently. There were certainly some tough lessons I had to go through a war to learn.”
Jeremy P. Ämick writes on behalf of the Silver Star Families of America.
Lessons never lost - Local family shares mother’s legacy of service with WAVES in WWII
Lying in her bed while in hospice care, Ruby “Ruth” Stephenson’s body may have become weakened by illness, but one can easily discern the bound in vigor that occurs when the veteran described the 14 months she served in the U.S. Navy during World War II—a brief moment of her past that not only allowed her to serve her country, but introduced her to a fellow sailor with whom she would share most of her life. Surrounded by her three children, Stephenson shared stories of the journey that led her to unformed service, events that were supplemented by many recollections of her family.
“Mom had a brother that died in infancy and she was raised as an only child,” said Elaine Cook, Stephenson’s daughter. “She was raised in Fayette (Mo.) and graduated from high school in 1940.”
For nearly two years, Stephenson attended school at Central Methodist University until deciding it was time to “strike it on her own,” the veteran softly whispered.
“The first time she applied (for the Navy), she was told that her eyesight was too poor,” said Romie Stephenson, the youngest of her two sons. “But they later relaxed the standards and she was able to join in 1943.” With a grin, Romie added, “She decided on the Navy because she thought they had the best looking uniform.”
The young recruit was soon on her way to become a member of the Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service (WAVES)—an organization established on July 30, 1942 to help fill positions left vacant stateside because of the scores of men deploying overseas to fight in World War II. Her first stop was at the Bronx campus of Hunter College in New York, the location that became the training base for all WAVES by 1943, and where she remained for the next several weeks to finish her boot camp and undergo medical training that would qualify her as a member of the medical corps.
As Stephenson recalled, her first (and only) duty assignment was at a small medical facility at Camp Elliott in San Diego, Calif.—a former Marine Corps and naval site where the first Navajo Code Talkers were trained. (A portion of the site is now situated on the Marine Corps Air Station Miramar.)
“She spent about a month working on one of the wards,” said Fred Stephenson, the oldest of her two sons. “Then,” he added, “she spent the rest of her time in the admissions and discharge office.”
While at Camp Elliott, her family shared, the young WAVES member met Frederick Stephenson, Sr.—the man with whom she would fall in love and then marry on April 21, 1944.
“Dad had been in the Navy since the late 1930s and was at Pearl Harbor when the Japanese attacked,” said his daughter, Elaine. “After he and mother were married, she became pregnant and had to leave the Navy because at that time women couldn’t be in the service and pregnant.”
Receiving her discharge in October 1944, Stephenson returned to Mid-Missouri, giving birth to her first child, Elaine. A few months later she moved back to California to wait for her husband to finish out his enlistment.
“In California, mom lived in an apartment across the hall from Phyllis Diller—this was back before she became a famous comedian,” said Fred. “They became good friends and Phyllis would babysit Elaine when mom had to go run errands and mom would watch Phyllis’ brood whenver she needed to go do something.”
When Stephenson’s husband was discharged from the Navy on February 10, 1947, the family returned to Fayette, where their second child, Fred Jr., was born months later.
“Dad worked for awhile at a grocery store in Fayette but wanted to become a professional photographer,” said Elaine. “We moved to Houston (Texas) in early 1949 so that he could enroll in the University of Houston’s photography program.”
The couple and their growing family spent the next few years living in housing in Memorial Park dedicated to WWII veterans attending college. While living there, the couple welcomed their third and final child, Romie, in 1953.
“Our dad graduated with his photography degree and worked a few years for Susan’s of Hollywood (in Texas),” said Fred. “He then worked for Southwest Industrial Electronics and stayed with them until his retirement in the early 1970s, after he became partially disabled from a stroke.” Fred added, “Mother was a homemaker for several years and later worked for Sears. She retired from there in 1984.”
After the passing of their father in 2001, Stephenson relocated to Moberly, where she has resided until her recent transfer to the hospice care unit at a local hospital. Reflecting on the stories they have listened to their mother share throughout the years, the WAVES veteran’s children are proud of their mother’s service and continue to find pleasure in helping to share her experiences.
“I personally feel that they aren’t accurately teaching the history of World War II any more,” said Romie, “and people need to understand the sacrifices that others—such as my mother and father—have endured for them.”
His older brother, Fred, added, “And it’s not just about those who fought in the war, but they should also learn about how the entire country was united and everyone on the home front gave something, too … through sacrifices such as rationing.” Pausing, he concluded, “These are stories that need to be preserved and shared so that these lessons are never lost.”
Ruth Stephenson passed away on December 22, 2015 and was laid to rest with her husband in the Houston (Texas) National Cemetery.
Jeremy P. Ämick writes on behalf of the Silver Star Families of America.
Jeremy P. Amick is a military historian and author dedicated to preserving our nation's military legacies.