Heart Of A Veteran
11/07/2017 07:00AM ● Published by Robert Frey
Acadiana Veterans Remember The Past
By Scott Brazda
Both are men who chose to serve; both are men who answered the call in a time of need. Both are men who put ‘country’ ahead of ‘self;’ both are veterans of the U.S. military. It’s a badge each wears proudly. Here are their stories of service in the Pacific and Eastern Europe, respectively.
UNITED STATES MARINES (RETIRED)
“I was in high school and I remember hearing about the Japanese bombing Pearl Harbor.” Says 93-year-old Buddy Tate of New Iberia. “I was 16 then, and really unhappy about it. We didn’t want the Japanese taking over our country.”
But Buddy Tate, however--- a product of Austin and then Houston, Texas--- was only 16 years old and wasn’t able to join the military right away. In fact, it was a year later that his parents gave him permission to join the U.S. Marine Corps. From Houston to San Diego to Hawaii for training, and then to battling the Japanese in the Pacific, that’s where Private First Class Buddy Tate experienced---literally and figuratively--- his baptism of fire.
“I guess I was scared as hell. We’d go looking for a place to hide, and there was no place there to hide,” explains Tate. “Get the hell out of that boat and hope for the best. The first and second wave, most of the time, they didn’t have a chance.”
For 18 months, he was in a foreign invasion at different sites in the Pacific, the most notable being 30 days at Iwo Jima. “They needed the airfield to get fighters on it, but we were just fighting and dying and trying to stay alive,” says Tate. “We had no idea of how important Iwo Jima was at the time.”
Sacrifices were made under conditions the majority of us can never fathom. “You couldn’t sleep; the best you could do was catnap. At night, one guy would stay awake for an hour or so, and then we’d rotate out and take turns.” No hot meals, no shower, either; but that was understandably not the worst of it. “I lost a lot of friends,” Tate continues. “A couple times shells fell in fox holes with them, and I was damn lucky, with just a busted ear drum. But yes, there were lots and lots of casualties. That’s war.”
The war in Eastern Europe was, of course, happening simultaneously, but Tate says there was little time for a Marine on the ground to grasp the entirety of what was taking place on a global military stage. “Once in a while, we’d hear about Germany,” he recalls, “but we didn’t really pay attention. We were too busy just trying to stay alive.”
Tate was discharged after he suffered a busted ear drum, and soon after he married, had four children and spent 40 years in the oilfield. Now a widower, Tate is pleased with the current status of the military.
Now retired and living with his daughter Ronda in New Iberia, Buddy Tate has no regrets and is proud to have served the United States America. “Helped save my country, I guess. I don’t know. Just happy to be here.”
UNITED STATES ARMY (RETIRED)
“The day after Pearl Harbor, we all wanted to leave our small school in Ohio and sign up, and fight them. But I was only 17, and never got to join. I was drafted when I turned 18.”
He turned 94 in early October, which means Lafayette’s George F. Schneider has seen a lot. His service to our nation during World War II took place in some major campaigns. “From Normandy in northern France to the Rhinelands, to the Ardennes for the Battle of the Bulge and then into central Europe,” recalls Schneider. “I was in the infantry, and when I asked what my job was they said, ‘Here’s a rifle, now shoot the enemy’.”
A Sterling, Ohio native who moved to south Louisiana four years ago when his wife died, Schneider says the Battle of the Bulge was the most memorable “It was so vicious—over 80,000 American casualties--and the weather was the worst the natives had seen in 70 years. Plus, the Germans were taking a lot of prisoners; in fact, one night I was sure I was going to be captured. As scared as I ever was.”
Schneider was proud to serve his country, and was awarded a Purple Heart after his jeep struck a land mine in March of 1945. “The captain and a friend of mine riding with me were both killed,” says Schneider, “and I was flung over the windshield just behind a tank. If that had happened two seconds earlier, I’d have been dead.”
He lost a lot of friends during the various campaigns, and PFC Schneider remembers a point-blank message from an officer on that very subject. “Some Second Lieutenant called us together and said, ‘Take a good look at the man on your right, and then the one on your left. Take a good look because in 24 hours some of you bastards are gonna be dead and you’ll never see ‘em again’. Well, my first thought was, ‘This is for real!”
Schneider was serving in Magdeburg, Germany, near the Elbee River, when the Germans surrendered and thus ended the European portion of World War II. 30 years later, after becoming a geologist, Schneider’s past would meet his present. “I was working out of London, and Texaco had bought this German oil company. This paleontologist said, ‘This much better than fighting in the war, huh?’ I said, ‘How would you know? You’re too young’. But he wasn’t: When he was 15, he was conscripted (by the Germans) given a rifle and uniform, and told to defend Magdeburg at all costs. Well, he and his friends weren’t about to defend Magdeburg at all costs. They went over the river where we were, and surrendered to the Americans. He then told me, “You’re the one who captured me!”
There was no tickertape parade when Schneider returned home; his older brother was discharged a week later and his younger brother shortly thereafter. Schneider’s father put the return of his boys into perspective, no doubt speaking for many parents and servicemen at the time. “My younger brother, who’d been in the Navy, immediately told my dad, ‘Boy that hay smells so good. My dad wasn’t that philosophical, but he said, ’You weren’t smelling hay, son; you were smelling home.’”
After the war, Schneider went to college and began a 40-year career as a geologist, retiring at the age of 62. “I’m proud of my military career, and proud of today’s military, too.”
And when some comes up to George Schneider and says ‘thank you for serving our country, for being a veteran’? “I tell them I don’t regret it at all,” smiles Schneider. “I keep saying it wasn’t fun, but I’d definitely do it all over again.”
(George Schneider’s book, Survivor, is available at Amazon.com).