Korean War-era Navy gave sailor an education


FERDINAND — Rich Schwoeppe grew up one of the St. Henry Schwoeppes.

Farm raised.

One of John Schwoeppe’s kids.

So that was that.

He was destined to farm.

Schwoeppe in 1950
Schwoeppe today

Not so fast, says Rich. Back then, the 86-year-old says, he wanted to see more of what the world had to offer. He and three classmates enlisted in the Navy right out of high school. Rich, who was 17 when he graduated from Holland High School in 1948, viewed it as continuing his education.

After basic and machine mate training at Naval Station Great Lakes in North Chicago, Illinois, Rich was assigned to the troop transport ship USS General A.E. Anderson.

Before he ever got to her, the General Anderson’s round-trip transport voyages during WWII had included four trips from Norfolk, Virginia, to Casablanca, French Morocco.

During the Korean War — Rich went aboard in January 1949 —  she sailed Marines and soldiers from the Oakland and San Francisco areas in California to ports in Japan and Korea. Seeing how others lived overseas was part of that continuing education he’d signed up for, Rich says. And the military taught him to be self-sufficient, he adds.

Mostly, Rich says, he worked below deck. He fired the General Anderson’s boilers, moved into the machinist area to make parts and served as a throttle man, sending steam to turbines that drove propellers.

He ran into one of the classmates he’d enlisted with — John Schwinghammer — at the installation known then as Naval Station,  San Diego. Schwinghammer was assigned to the aircraft carrier USS Valley Forge.

“We had to pull in there for a couple of days and I went over and visited him,” Rich says. “He couldn’t believe it. That was neat.”

He never ran into the other two classmates who had enlisted with him. But once, in the Japanese prefecture of Okinawa, he was going through his ship’s chow line and the serviceman who handed him a tray said, “Hi, Rich.”
“Here it was Clarence Bueltel from St. Henry!,” Rich says. “I almost fell through that steel floor.”

Bueltel was a soldier on his way home to be discharged. He was pulling chow hall duty on Rich’s ship.

Rich signed up for a three-year hitch that was extended for an additional year thanks to the war. His pay grade was E-5 when he got out — Machinist Mate 2nd Class.

Rich and his wife, the former Evelyn Bolte, met after his discharge at a dance in 1952. They married in 1953 and made sure to travel during their years together raising five girls and two boys. They went to Alaska, Hawaii and  rode cable cars in San Francisco.

They live in Ferdinand today.

Before she met Rich and they began their adventures, Evelyn confides she considered joining the Women’s Army Corps so she could see something of the world. Instead, the trips she and Rich took as a couple and with their children supplied a lifetime of wonderful memories, she says. Once, when son Steve Schwoeppe was in the Army and stationed at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, they ventured to Washington, D.C. during the Thanksgiving Holiday.

“We looked at all the monuments and nobody was there,” Evelyn says. “It was really nice.”

“We had Thanksgiving dinner on the base at Fort Belvoir,” Rich adds.

Rich would go on to spend his civilian life working as a machine operator at area plants like Jasper Seating Co. and Jasper Corporation before ending with production management and purchasing at Dale Wood Manufacturing.
He retired July 17, 1993.

This spring, Rich was fortunate to join roughly 80 other veterans and their guardians on an Honor Flight trip to Washington, D.C. His guardian was his son Steve, another veteran.

Honor Flight is a national nonprofit that flies veterans — with priority given to World War II, Korean and Vietnam War veterans and other veterans who may be terminally ill — to Washington, D.C., for a free, one-day trip.

Rich and the other vets saw war memorials, the Washington and Lincoln memorials, the changing of the guard at Arlington Cemetery, the White House and other government buildings.

“I tell you what,” Rich says, “I was really impressed up there at D.C. with the monuments. The World War II monument was simply impressive.”

The World War II Memorial on the National Mall has a series of granite pillars in a semicircle with arches on opposite sides surrounding a plaza and fountain.

“They’re all nice,” Rich said of the U.S. capital’s monuments, “but that one from World War II really stood out in my mind. I can’t get over that.”

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