The Compass: Official Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay
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September 22, 2000 Issue
Local News

'Forgotten War' veteran not forgotten

Charles Schommer gave up high school diploma to sign up for Marines and Korea

By Joanne Flemming
Compass Correspondent

Charles Schommer's country did not forget the Sturgeon Bay man's service - including his weeks as one of 7,000 prisoners of war - in the "Forgotten War," as the Korean War is often called.

On Friday, Sept. 15, National POW/MIA Recognition Day, it honored him during a special service at his parish church, Corpus Christi in Sturgeon Bay. He was presented with the Korean War Service Medal, which the Republic of Korea gives to members of the United States military who served in that country during the Korean conflict, June 25, 1950, to July 27, 1953.

He also received his diploma from his high school, Messmer in Milwaukee. Schommer, then 16, had lied about his age to enlist in the Marines at the beginning of his senior year.

Recent legislation makes it possible for Korean War veterans who are at least 65 years old and who entered service before completing high school to get their diplomas.

Although Schommer knew he was participating in the POW/MIA Recognition Day service, all the honors were a surprise, he said.

Schommer, who was born and raised in rural Milwaukee, said he enlisted in the Marines "because I felt like leaving the city." Many of his friends were being drafted.

Mark Foster, Door County Veteran Services officer, said Schommer served from Dec. 4, 1951, to Dec. 3, 1955, and earned the rank of sergeant.

Schommer recalled how he and his fellow Marines were taken prisoners of war. They were stationed at an outpost on the 38th parallel. "They hit us on the whole front. They kind of pulverized us for three or four days, and then they overran us," he said. There was nothing left of the outpost, he added.

He spent six weeks in North Korea as a prisoner and was released in August 1953 after the war ended. He was debriefed in Japan for six weeks, then sent to Great Lakes Naval Hospital for six months. Schommer said he has shrapnel in his finger, head, buttocks and legs. He had also lost 47 pounds.

Sr. Ella Kaster, diocesan archivist and Schommer's cousin, said he will not discuss his experiences as a POW. His family "has asked him to go back and bring up memories. He says he's buried that and he doesn't want to think about it."

Sr. Kaster said Schommer has "very bad legs." His wife Gladys thinks that these problems, especially those with poor circulation, date back to North Korea.

The archivist also noted that he seldom eats rice. "His wife said that only in the last couple years that she can serve it and then it has to be disguised."

Schommer is proud of his service in the Marines and what he did for his country, she added.

Schommer was serving in California when he was discharged. He then returned to Wisconsin. He and Gladys were married in 1964. The couple have four children and one grandson.

Br. Robert Smith, Messmer High School president, told Schommer that the students, faculty and staff had prayed for him the previous day. When the prayers were over, they began giving Br. Smith money to give to veterans. Br. Smith kept out some of it towards a "long overdue" Messmer letter jacket for Schommer.

The remaining $100 was given to him, along with school memorabilia. Schommer later returned the money and asked that it be used for scholarships.

After the service, Gladys commended her husband: "I am very proud of all he did for our country and for his family."

Fr. Anthony Birdsall, Corpus Christi pastor, said, "I am happy someone from the parish was honored in such a way."

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