January 31, 2020

‘The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune’ and a little kindness along the way

Second Lieutenant Robert E. Schuelzky landed on Iwo Jima on 19 February 1945 with Easy Company, Second Battalion, 28th Marine Regiment, the company whose members raised the flag on Mount Suribachi. The lieutenant became Easy Company commanding officer Capt David E. Severance’s executive officer, then was killed on 17 March and buried in the Fifth Marine Division Cemetery near the base of Mount Suribachi.
            Two months later, Robert E. Schuelzky Jr. was born to the deceased lieutenant’s wife, Margaret (Mitchell). Like so many other young children of Iwo Jima fathers, and children of all fathers who die in war, Robert Jr. grew up without his father and felt alone.      His mother remarried. He says she never talked much about him, “just saying my father was killed in the war.” His grandparents were devastated and would take the young boy to the cemetery after they had their son’s remains brought back and buried in the Cedar Lawn Cemetery in Council Bluffs, Iowa.
            “I felt I was lost,” Bob says today, “and didn’t know about him. That’s the way it was. It really changed me over the years. I felt I was in the background. So, what could I ask about my father?”
            Bob grew up, went to college, earned a degree, married, worked for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, and had one daughter. There had never been any closure.
            When his mother died, he had to go to court in 1973 to get his father’s box of pictures and personal things his stepfather had in the attic. Bob also got some photos from his grandparents and his father’s footlocker from their attic.
            Fast forward to November 2018 when military historian Brent Westemeyer called, saying he was looking for information about Bob’s father to put a name to the face of the last unidentified Marine in the “Gung Ho photo” on Mount Suribachi.
            “My father sure has the features that match the person’s face,” Bob said. “But it’s still not decided who he is.”
            Going through the footlocker, Bob learned more about his father. And he sent for his military records from St. Louis in the National Personnel Records Center that told him more about his father.
            Feeling he never had closure, a memorial service was held at the gravesite in March 2019 with 100 people in attendance, and friends donated a granite bench.
            Then at a 2019 Memorial Day service, Bob met Iwo Jima veteran Duane Tunnyhill (I-3-28) from Omaha, Neb. He told Bob about the Fifth Marine Division Association. He belonged to, its Spearhead newsletter, and an upcoming reunion New Orleans. Bob joined the association, and he and wife Evelyn attended the reunion, hoping, as many do, to meet one person who knew his father. That didn’t happen.
            “The reunion was wonderful,” Bob said. “God gave me many news friends from the reunion.”
            After learning that his father’s commanding officer was still living, Bob hoped to talk to him. When Bob had gone through his father’s footlocker, he found a letter then-Captain Severance had written his mother—a typed, single-spaced letter of a little more than a page—after the company got back to Camp Tarawa after Iwo Jima was declared over and the division was preparing for the invasion of Japan.
            “Captain Severance knew my mother was pregnant with me,” Bob said, aware that the captain’s wife had also given birth to a son not long before, “and that my father would never see me.
            “The letter to my mother showed so much compassion. It was overwhelming to have a captain that showed that he cared about my mother and me. I was born 62 days after my father’s death.”
            Bob said he read the letter over and over that the captain had written to his mother. Then when the colonel called a few days after the reunion, Bob said, “I was in shock and had to take a second breath.”
            For the next few minutes, Col Severance, USMC (Ret.), told Bob about his dad, whom he always called “Ski,” and they talked about each other’s families.
            With that, Bob said, “God gave me what I needed. The call really meant so much to me.”
            Those are the kind of stories that make groups like the Fifth Marine Division Association so great: Three men with connections from a battle 75 years ago, meeting at a memorial service, going to a reunion, talking on the phone and sharing the experiences that have shaped lives and have helped the healing process.

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