The children of the Schuenemeyer brothers will spend Memorial Day as they always do — at the American Legion Hall in Union, where photos of their fathers hang on the front wall.
The six brothers — Raymond, Clifton, Irwin, Norman, George and Marvin — were all in service, four during World War II and two during Korea.
Only Marvin, the youngest, is still living. The other five passed away after living long, full lives into their 80s and 90s.
All six brothers were recognized together for their service last month during a Franklin County Honor Flight trip to Washington, D.C., when six of their family members who were serving as guardians for other veterans posed in front of the Missouri pillar of the World War II memorial holding the brothers’ photos.
It was a really touching moment, said Clifton’s daughter Vicki Jo (Schuenemeyer) Hooper, Union, noting it was made even more special because she was able to experience that with her siblings and cousin.
Norman’s daughter, Pat (Schuenemeyer) Buehrle, Washington, agreed.
“I thought it was wonderful,” she remarked.
Holding the Schuenemeyer brothers’ photos were Vicki Jo, her brothers Claude Schuenemeyer, who made the trip as a veteran, and Charlie Schuenemeyer, who was Claude’s guardian; her sister, Beverly (Schuenemeyer) Duer; Pat and her husband, Skip, who serves on the Franklin County Honor Flight board.
Vicki Jo said being as an Honor Flight guardian was “a bucket list item” of hers.
“I told my veteran, ‘You’re fulfilling a wish for me to be able to do this,’ ” she said, noting the Honor Flight program was just getting started here when her father passed away.
She knows he would have liked to have seen the World War II Memorial, because he donated money to help build it.
The sons of George and Mabel Schuenemeyer represented every branch of the military with their service.
Raymond enlisted in 1938 in the Army National Guard and served in Panama. He later served in the Army during World War II from 1942 to 1946. He received the American Theater Ribbon for good conduct and the World War II Victory Medal.
Irwin enlisted in the Navy in 1942 and was discharged in 1946. He received the American Theater Ribbon for good conduct and the World War II Victory Medal.
Clifton was drafted in 1943 and assigned to serve in the Army Air Force engineers. His unit was responsible for constructing airfields, roads and bridges in the South Pacific Theater of Operations.
During an invasion of Leyte Province in November 1944, Clifton was wounded, for which he received a Purple Heart. He also received two Bronze Stars and a Good Conduct Medal. Clifton was discharged in 1946.
Norman was drafted into the Army in 1943, just weeks before he was to graduate from Union High School. He was sent to Normandy as a replacement and was wounded near Saint-Lo July 13, 1944.
After a few months recovering in an England hospital, Norman was sent to Belgium in December 1944 to fight in the Battle of the Bulge. He was discharged in 1946.
Norman was awarded a Purple Heart, two Bronze Stars, a Good Conduct Medal and other awards.
George enlisted in the Army in 1948 and then later was called back while in the Reserves. He served seven years in the Reserves.
Marvin entered the Marines in 1951 and served until 1954. He received the National Defense Service Medal and the Good Conduct Medal.
Was Hard on Their Mother
Henrietta Schuenemeyer, who was married to Norman, said the experience of having four sons serving in World War II at the same time was hard on their mother, especially when they were wounded.
“They were serving all over, in all corners of the war,” said Henrietta, noting Norman kept a pocket-sized Bible from his parents with him during his service.
“It was in his pocket when he was wounded, and it saved him some,” she said. “He was hit with shrapnel, his whole left shoulder was hit.”
Pat Buehrle still has her father’s Bible. The cover reads, “May This Keep You Safe From Harm.” Inside is a note from his parents, who gave Bibles like that to all of their sons while they were in service, said Pat.
Service Brought Them Closer
The six Schuenemeyer brothers were close, and their war experience brought them closer, the family said. But the brothers never talked about their service openly.
After the wars, they were devoted to service organizations like the American Legion and committed to serving their community. They volunteered and were active.
“We always knew they were in the service,” said Vicki Jo. “And we were always proud of them,” added Pat.
“We always were raised that it was good to be in service, and we were proud of anyone who was in the service,” said Pat.
“And Memorial Day, for as long as I can remember, has been at the American Legion in Union,” said Vicki Jo. “But it wasn’t talked about.”
Clifton did talk to Vicki Jo’s son, Brett, a little when he was going in the service, sharing a couple of brief stories, “but he didn’t just talk to everybody about it.”
The family has some of the letters that the brothers wrote to each other during their years in service. In a letter they have from Irwin to Clifton, he writes about their brother Norman and how he had written to him too. He writes about all the different family members, said Vicki Jo.
Norman’s son-in-law Skip said Norman opened up a little bit to him one weekend when they made a special trip to Lake of the Ozarks to watch “Band of Brothers,” a miniseries about one company’s service in World War II.
“All of a sudden when something would show, or he could hear certain things, he would start talking, so I’d pause the movie and he’d tell me a 30-second or five-minute story,” said Skip.
One story Norman did share explained why he had decided never to give up smoking.
“He and his buddy had dug a foxhole and they were being bombarded by mortar shells,” said Skip. “Norman either ran out of cigarettes or matches, and . . . the guys in the next foxhole had what he wanted, so he jumped out and went over there, had a cigarette, and when he came back, a mortar shell had hit his foxhole and killed his partner. So cigarettes saved his life.”
All Were Good Dancers
In addition to all being in the service, the Schuenemeyer brothers also were all very good dancers, said Henrietta, who met Norman at a dance in Union.
“We always went to dances on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights,” she said, noting tickets were 5 cents each.
“If I dated somebody and he couldn’t dance, I wouldn’t go back. But Norman was such a wonderful dancer — all the boys in the family were,” she remarked.
Franklin County Honor Flight has already made two trips to Washington, D.C., this year (in April and May) and three more are planned (June, September and October).
Recently Franklin County Honor Flight celebrated its 50th trip and more than 2,000 veterans honored.
Currently each trip takes 26 veterans to see the war monuments recognizing their service. There also are 26 guardians, who go along to take care of the veterans, and three leaders.
Guardians and leaders each pay $500 to make the trip. The veterans pay nothing. Their trip is paid for 100 percent through donations.
More donations are always needed. “That is our biggest need right now,” said Skip Buehrle.
Donations can be made online at www.fchonorflight.org or by mail at Franklin County Honor Flight, Inc., P.O. Box 60, Union, MO 63084.
The trip to D.C. is a whirlwind one-day experience.
“We leave from Mid-American Coaches around 2 a.m. to get to the airport, and we get back to Mid-American around 11 p.m. or midnight,” said Skip Buehrle.
“Your adrenaline keeps you going,” said Vicki Jo.
For each trip, the Franklin County Honor Flight group hires a bus driver and a police officer to stay with them all day long.
“We know no stoplights in D.C.,” Skip remarked. “If we come up over the hill, talk about parting of the waters. We just go right through. It saves us a lot of time. If we had to sit in traffic, we wouldn’t be able to do this.”
All of the meals are all coordinated as well.
Guardians have to apply to participate in the program, and there is more work involved than just making the trip.
Being a guardian is more than just a title, said Skip. Guardians are there to make sure their assigned veteran has the best experience possible.
Guardians meet with their veteran before making the trip to get to know each other and about the veteran’s service.
During the trip, most guardians take photos for their veterans, and even make a photo album/scrapbook for them once they return home. They present it to their veteran at the reunion dinner held about a month after the trip, said Skip.
The Honor Flight trips are memorable for both the veterans and the guardians, said Skip, noting he has seen veterans who come back to serve as guardians, and guardians who come back to make the trip as veterans.