Norman Schuenemeyer is always quick with a smile while he’s telling his stories.
He gives a giant grin when remembering tales of old friends, and some of the lighter side of his military service.
Schuenemeyer, of Union, is a World War II veteran and Purple Heart recipient. What is unique about Schuenemeyer’s service is he fought in two major battles in the European Theater.
Schuenemeyer was drafted in 1943, just weeks before he was to graduate from Union High School.
“I should have graduated in May, but went in April,” he remembers.
When he returned from the service, school officials tried to give Schuenemeyer his high school diploma, but he insisted on taking a test.
“They said, ‘with your experience you earned your diploma,’ but I said I’d rather take the examination so it is not just given to me,” he said.
He took the test and passed, and while his pride required him to take the exam, his experiences while fighting the Germans far outweighed anything he could learn in school.
Schuenemeyer trained in North Carolina. He then learned maneuvers in Virginia and Tennessee.
He then went to New York City before going to war in England.
Schuenemeyer recalls a visit to The Aquarium Restaurant during his stay in New York. There was no room for him and a friend at the bar, so the two sat at a table to have drinks, mostly purchased by bar patrons.
“The entire table was full, you couldn’t get another glass on it,” he said.
Famous jazz pianist Fats Wallers was playing at the The Aquarium Restaurant and he sat at Schuenemeyer’s table to chat with the soldiers.
Schuenemeyer recalled that after Wallers left the restaurant, he traveled on a cross-country train trip and died along the way.
Schuenemeyer was stationed in England and then following D-Day went to battle in Normandy, France.
It was July 13, 1944, that Schuenemeyer was wounded by a shell explosion.
He had been leading a squad and came upon a hedgerow. Schuenemeyer was a replacement with the squad and planned to follow the hedgerow, until he came across a sergeant who took command of the squad.
The sergeant led the men out through a field instead of along the hedgerow.
“We get out in the middle of the field and I got hit in the chest and the sergeant got hit in the leg,” Schuenemeyer said. “We were the only two. . . the others were dead.
“The sergeant lost it,” he added. “He trained those guys.”
At that point, Schuenemeyer and the sergeant fled for the hedgerow when a shell knocked a tree onto Schuenemeyer.
He was taken to the hospital in England to recover from the wounds.
While he was there, Schuenemeyer met another celebrity, Mickey Rooney, who was visiting soldiers in the hospital.
Battle of the Bulge
After Schuenemeyer left the hospital, he returned to battle where he fought during the Battle of the Bulge, a German offensive that was one of the largest and bloodiest fought in World War II.
The offensive was launched at the end of the war and after the Allied forces defeated the German army, the war in Europe ended soon after.
“After Bulge, they pulled me out and I was sent out as an instructor at a newly organized officer candidate school,” Schuenemeyer said.
But Schuenemeyer said he went into the “lost outfit.”
He was supposed to go to Germany, but the driver of the truck he was on had orders to go to France.
“For six months I didn’t get any mail,” he said.
At that point, the Red Cross asked Schuenemeyer why he wasn’t writing replies to his family.
“I wasn’t getting any mail, so I didn’t write any more,” he said.
Not long after that, Schuenemeyer returned to the United States, but he wasn’t yet discharged.
“The European Theater was over, but I didn’t have enough points to come home and too many to go to the Pacific,” he said.
Schuenemeyer set sail for Virginia, but during the trip there was a major storm that delayed his arrival.
He was later discharged in St. Louis.
After the War
Schuenemeyer returned to Union and went to work at McDonnell Douglas, he then worked for a railroad company.
He also drove a Wonder Bread truck for five years and then a milk truck for another five years. It was while he drove the milk truck that he took classes during weekends on heating and air conditioning.
He then worked for numerous companies, including Lakebrink Heating and Air Conditioning, Union.
In 1976, when Schuenemeyer was 54, he and son-in-law Skip Buehrle started B and S Heating and Cooling in Union.
He retired when he turned 62 in the mid ’80s.
Schuenemeyer and his wife Henrietta have been married for 62 years.
She, originally from Jeffriesburg and met Schuenemeyer during dances at the city park that were held before the war. When Schuenemeyer returned the couple began dating.
They have three children, eight grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. There are two more great-grandchildren on the way.