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Honor flight to Washington brings back memories to Schnitz
Steve Clark - Thursday, May 23, 2013 8:15 AM
Originally published May 20, 2013.
Woody Schnitz, of Huntington, couldn't wait to enlist in the Army during World War II.
So he didn't wait.
"My dad and Russ Birdsall's dad signed the papers for us to go in - at 17 years old," Schnitz says.
Schnitz attributes being able to skirt the military's age minimum of 18 years old to its policies not being strictly enforced in those days. His service spanned 1945 to 1947.
Honor Flight Northeast Indiana, an organization that arranges trips to Washington, D.C. for groups of WWII veterans, enabling them to see sights such as the WWII monument, took its most recent trip on May 8 and Schnitz was along for the ride.
Departing on a flight from Fort Wayne International Airport bound straight for D.C., the trip was decidedly less circuitous than the one Schnitz went on after enlisting.
After going through basic training at Camp Atterbury, in Edinburgh, Schnitz and 9,000 other soldiers departed for New York, assigned as the relief for soldiers in Germany.
But that's not where Schnitz ended up.
"Plans were switched and they sent 9,000 of us to the Philippines," he says. "Nine ships went to the Philippines. We had nine ships that left and went down through the Panama Canal."
And the twists didn't stop there.
"I signed up to go in as a mechanic and I didn't wind up there," Schnitz says. "I wound up as a medic.
"Trained under a doctor. I had no training to be a medic. That's what the doctor said, ‘You gave me five mechanics?'"
With the war ending in 1945, Schnitz describes himself and his fellow troops as being "more or less the cleanup."
Stationed at a dispensary, Schnitz notes that checking blood and giving shots were among his primary duties.
Though he wasn't keen on performing those duties, confessing to being happy whenever his five hours a day doing them were up, he was even less keen on posting health notices at local clubs.
Soldiers frequented those clubs in order to enjoy the companionship of native women, who were often riddled with disease, and the notices that Schnitz posted prohibited the soldiers from being there.
It was a sentiment his peers did not take kindly to.
Schnitz recalls often having to flee the scene of such clubs, a mob of angry soldiers hot on his tail.
Though no bodily harm ever resulted from those incidents, Schnitz did not escape the Philippines unscathed; a battery exploded in his face, blinding him for 10 days. Also, prolonged use of firearms without any ear protection had a deleterious effect on his hearing.
To this day, Schnitz says, the government provides for the care of both his eyes and his ears.
Schnitz left the Philippines in 1947 for Fort Leavenworth, KS. He administered physicals there, but had no interest in staying.
"No way I was signing up at Fort Leavenworth," he says. "There was too much brass down there."
Schnitz had another offer on the table. The military offered him a promotion if he would learn how to fly and then travel to Korea.
"They had this deal where the Army paid you to learn to fly," Schnitz says. "And if you wanted to, you could go back in and fly reconnaissance planes."
Though he was unsure about going to Korea, Schnitz decided to take the military up on its offer. Upon returning to Huntington, he started taking flying lessons.
Schnitz's instructors were anything but ordinary. Retired Army pilots, Schnitz confesses "taught us things that regular pilots wouldn't teach us."
One of those lessons was how to get a plane down quick.
"It's scary," he says. "You come in for a landing, and if you're in a short field, you kick your right lever and pull the stick straight back and the plane turns sideways and it'll drop straight down."
Training in the middle of the night wasn't uncommon.
"We practiced night landing," Schnitz says. "If you were going to go to Korea, they aren't going to have any lights over there."
To compensate for the darkness, he notes, they often lined up cars for their headlights or picked nights when the moon was bright.
At the end of his training, Schnitz remained ambivalent about going to Korea.
"I don't know," he muses. "It came time to go and everyone was saying that it's not our war.
"So, I didn't go back."
Schnitz left the military. He opened a garage in 1954, which he still operates today.
Though he was no longer in the military, his training continued to come in handy in the years following.
"I sewed one of the kids up one day because they wouldn't go to the doctor," he says proudly. "She didn't have a scar or nothing."
He also took his kids up in a plane on one occasion. However, they did not respond to it well.
"That was the last time I've been up in a plane," he says.
That is, until the honor flight.
Accompanied by his oldest son, Mike, Schnitz says he enjoyed the trip and that it was everything his friend, Russ Birdsall, had built it up to be.
"He told me not to miss it," he says.
Even though his eyesight was a casualty of his time in the military, the enjoyment of the experience is something he sees clearly.
"If I could do it all over again," he says, "I would."