By Hank Schrader
There are two important recognition days in May for our military forces. This year, May 20, 2017, (the annual celebration day is the third Saturday in May) we recognize and pay tribute on Armed Forces Day to all who have served our country. To all of you who read this and served in the military, thank you for your service—most will never know how much you contributed to the well-being of our country. I served for 20 years as an infantry officer, my nephew Lance, served in the Army as part of the 10th Mountain Division in Bosnia, and my niece, Mindy Kay is on active duty in the Air Force. Thanks for your service—you two young ones have made me proud!
The second important day is Memorial Day, celebrated this year on May 29th. Memorial Day recognizes those who died while serving their country. This holiday has its origins from the end of the US Civil War—it was originally called Decoration Day. Although the correct purpose of this holiday is to recognize those who actually died while on active service, for most American it also includes those who served their country and have passed on. A lot of us take some comfort remembering those who have left the living, so I do not think it is inappropriate to also include those who served but now have died. In that spirit, I would like to recognize two members of our family.
I would be remiss, if I didn’t pay tribute to Anne’s father, who is no longer with us. Anne’s Dad, Alfred W Ludtke, served in World War II, as an officer of Gen MacArthur’s personal staff in the Philippines. After the war, he continued his service in the reserves and rose to the rank of LTC. Thank you A. W. for your service and sacrifice for country!
The rest of this blog is about my Dad, Henry Carl Schrader Sr.—the man I most admired in my life.
Dad or Hank as most knew him, retired as a Major General from the Army after 33 years of service in the Army. Often, when meeting new people, he would say “Hi, I’m Hank— he seldom used “I’m General Schrader”—he loved being a General Officer, but never flaunted it. He served in World War II, Korea and Vietnam—a little over 7 years in combat. He was an engineer officer—loved to build things and he was excellent at it.
Dad graduated from the University of Illinois and later went back to earn his master’s degree there—both degrees were in civil engineering. Later in life, he would be recognized as a distinguished graduate from the engineering school.
He loved camping, the outdoors and, although extremely busy during his military career, always made time to take our family camping when possible. Before he was assigned to be the District Engineer on Okinawa, our family crossed the country and visited most of our National Parks. We even took a troop ship to Okinawa—Dad thought it would be quite an adventure, but on landing, my Mom said words to this effect, “I don’t know about you but I flying home—you can go back to the US how you like!”–no more 2-3 weeks on military troop ship for her! We flew home.
He was an Eagle Scout and my brother and I also earned the highest award in Boy Scouts. Because he introduced me to Boy Scouts, it opened new areas of interests in my life. When I was working on the athletics merit badge in Boy Scouts, for example, my times on the running portions requirements were much faster than the top listed times and I realized I had a talent for running, which later in life lead me to be a college track athlete.
In WW II, as a young major, Dad was the Executive Officer of the 53rd Armored Engineer Battalion, in the 8th Armored Division. After a few months, he was selected as the Battalion Commander of this unit, and served there until the end of the war. Fluent in German, after the end of the war, he was the military occupation commander of the region where his father had been born.
In Korea, he was Chief of the Construction Division, Korean Base Section. He was awarded the Legion of Merit for his service in Korea.
In Vietnam, he commanded the 18th Engineer Brigade. Under his leadership, his units accomplished building significant roads and bridges in the highlands area. According to some accounts, these were the most difficult engineer tasks completed during the Vietnam War, due the complex terrain involved.
Upon returning from Vietnam, he was able to attend my graduation from West Point. He swore me in as a commissioned officer, administering the oath as allowed, when you have a relative in the service. It was a great day for me, to say the least.
Always an innovator, his last assignment in the army was commanding general of the computer systems command. It was a fitting end to his career, as he was the key staff officer in the Pentagon who proposed the creation of this command to make sure all the Army’s computers could effectively and compatibly work together.
Dad retired in 1973. I was lucky to be able to attend his retirement ceremony. He was awarded his second Distinguished Service Medal (DSM) at the ceremony. During his career, along with his 2 DSMs, he earned 4 Legion of Merits, 4 Air Medals and 2 Army Commendation Medals.
Dad was a true military engineer. He was excellent at his craft—in 1980 he was selected a recipient of the gold medal of the Society of Military Engineers for “outstanding leadership and accomplishments of the mission of the society of military engineers.”
After the military, he joined an architectural firm as a civilian engineer. One of his best achievements was to design and supervising the building of a section of the Washington DC Metro system. He even was selected to be an officer in the US High Speed Railroad Association.
My father died in 2008. He was 90 years old. He as was married to my Mom, Marium, for 65 years. They both sacrificed to help make our country a better place—Dad at war, Mom raising two rambunctious boys alone during the Korean War and later keeping tabs on my brother and me as we were both in college during the Vietnam War. He is buried at Arlington National Cemetery and Mom, who died in 2009, is also buried with him.
Neither were a stranger to Arlington—Dad came to bury his friends and comrades; Mom served as an Arlington Lady. For those who do not know what an Arlington Lady is, every soldier who is buried at Arlington has a volunteer lady, who attends the service, to let our service members know their service is recognized and they are not buried alone. This is especially important for those who have sacrificed and may not have family members present. The ladies present cards of condolence to the next of kin from the military service chief and spouse on behalf of the service family, and from the Arlington Lady herself. One of the duties, is to try and remain composed, but after the ceremony, most of these ladies, cry their eyes out when alone—I know my Mom often did. For both of them, Memorial Day happened more than once a year—it happened every time they came to Arlington National Cemetery for a funeral.
His funeral in 2008 was dignified, sharp, and well performed by the Old Guard. He would have liked it. It was a crisp, cold day but lots of sunshine. Somehow, a bad day just turned out right.
Well, thanks Mom and Dad—you helped mold me into what I am today. You made our country a better place by defending our way of life. I think it is very appropriate to recognize you for your service during Memorial Day—we are thankful and blessed you came home from three wars but now you are with your comrades who made the ultimate sacrifice and other warriors who stood up to defend us. All who went to war just wanted to make the world a better place and you all succeeded.
After reading this, I think you can agree, his was a life well lived. Thanks for being my Dad—I love you, miss you and will always look up to you. Rest easy, my father, be at peace.