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Walt Shroeder
Walt Schroeder grew up with five siblings in Methuen and Lawrence, Massachusetts, in a German-ancestry family. His father sold life insurance for John Hancock and his early memories of the depression were that the family still had a  decent income from the premiums people paid for insurance. Walt’s early job was working at Pacific Mills in Lawrence as a “filling” clerk for the weaving looms. He carried wooden boxes with 35-45 pounds of bobbins and material to the looms and then hauled away the empties. The mill also turned out the fabric for airplane trainers’ wings the military used. As he says, it wasn’t a classy job.

He was drafted for World War II in 1942, a single man of 20, and arbitrarily assigned to the Air Force, which is where he wanted to be anyway. His older brother Warren preceded him into the service, but was taken into the infantry, into field artillery and eventually wound up in New Guinea and New Hebrides, in General MacArthur’s command.

Walt’s basic training took place at Atlantic City where recruits were housed in a hotel. He then undertook radio training in Illinois for three to four months. Since he had tinkered with radios as a teenager, even having an illegal radio station the FCC shut down, the hardest part was memorizing the codes for fast receiving. As it turned out later, the planes Walt served on as assistant radioman were usually under radio silence during their bombing runs and didn’t use radio until they were in sight of their bases. Proceeding then to gunnery school in Harlingen, Texas, the AT-6 trainers the fledgling gunners flew in, had a .30 caliber flexible mount in the back and when airborne, the gunners practiced shooting at a towed target. He also trained by trap-shooting day after day, sometimes from a moving flat-bed truck, painfully bruising one side of his body from shoulder to waist repeatedly.

He went from Harlingen to March Field (near today’s Edwards Air Force Base, then called Muroc) to new concrete barracks in 1943. He saw his first jet airplane, probably a   prototype, a phenomenon at the time. He continued flight training there. He shipped out to Kuaui, Hawaii at Barking Sands, at first doing submarine search missions in a B-24   Liberator tail turret a few hundred feet off the water. In order to get into the turret, he passed through two tiny metal doors, a tight squeeze for his 5’9” frame, into the belly turret, but once in, it was fairly comfortable. Once on a mission all the plate glass on the top and sides of the turret was shot out and when he tried to fire on approaching Japanese Zeroes, the doors popped open, jamming the turret.  The four inch Plexiglas   directly in front of him was tough, though, and withstood about everything. There was no air pressurization, and no strapping-in harness.

The twin guns themselves had finger-hold handles and were moved by the handles near the triggers.  There were   controls for the turret on the bottom. The sights on the two 50 caliber guns were oval/oblong and if you got the target plane on one sight and fired, the shells from the twin barrels looked like they would meet out in the distance.

On an early raid over Wotje, a bomb from their own bomb bay exploded under the plane. Typically, when the bomb bay doors were opened, two or three men on a dangerous catwalk above would put their feet on the bombs to unlatch them and kick them out. In this instance, the Zeroes came up firing from the target field and then one of the B-24’s bombs exploded right under the plane sending it about 500 feet up from the concussion. But the plane, nicknamed “The Little General,” survived intact and limped back to Baker Field. After the attack, they counted 156 holes in the plane, the fuselage was ripped, and there was a lot of flak damage. The damage to their plane was severe but the hardest things to replace were engines. With no replacement planes available, the crew went on an early R & R during repair.

On another mission, they lost an engine, overheated  another of the four, and had to jettison all the guns, fuel, and everything else moveable on the plane. They landed with not enough fuel to turn the plane off the runway. Replacement tires were hard to get and regulations said they had to be replaced after 30 landings, but they were usually over-due for replacements, making the crew sweat out each landing.

At one point, Walt’s plane bombed Kwajalein and then his unit was stationed there amid the total ruin. He was at     Saipan, Apamama, Tarawa, and Canton, often living in tents furnished with ammunition crates. On long missions in the plane, they were supplied with bread, spam, pineapple juice, or C rations. The crew usually brought their own food asthe   combination with pineapple juice made some of them sick. It was a contrast to the usually decent food they got wherever they were based. Given an opportunity, they would raid the Navy’s better stores of food.

In the plane, the crew often played cards up under the top turret near the pilot, or up above the closed bomb bay, or near the waist guns. The men would sleep over the bomb bay, too, where they stored oxygen bottles and other equipment. There was friendship, trust in abilities, and camaraderie among the crew, including the officers. And when they went for R & R in Hawaii and other places, they saw the tourist sights and behaved like college kids on spring break except that there were no opportunities to meet young women—they simply weren’t available where he went. He undertook 33 missions, three more than required, with the same crew throughout the war. Walt felt fortunate in his crew and he was satisfied they did their best. He got the Distinguished Flying Cross with one oak leaf cluster and the air medal with three oak leaf clusters.

Walt was discharged as Staff Sergeant in San Bernadino, California in 1945 and married Lucille Schaat from St. Anthony, Idaho, that same year in Oakland. She was a St. Lukes (Boise) trained navy nurse stationed in the Bay Area, staying with her sister in Huntington Park. He met her at a friend’s wedding. Dropping early plans to stay in California, Walt needed to find a job.  Lucille’s  brother in  Idaho owned a hardware store so Walt worked for him and helped out on the family farm. He bought a grocery store and a frozen meat locker unit in Parker, near St. Anthony, then, using his veteran’s preference, became a postmaster in Parker, Idaho. He relocated to the Las Vegas, Nevada post office and stayed for 29 years.

Walt and Lucille raised their son and daughter there, and joined the Presbyterian Church. Lucille went back into nursing for 29 years, first in a Las Vegas private hospital, and then with an ophthalmologist. After retirement, they moved to Clarkston in 1984, following their son to the region, and she joined First Presbyterian Church. She has held many positions with the church since then.
Editor’s Note: On Veterans Day, 2007, a lengthy typescript interview done in 1992 by Stan Wolcott, attorney son of Earl Wolcott, the pilot of the B-24 and commanding officer of Walt Schroeder’s squadron, came to hand. This is one of several interviews Wolcott undertook to honor his father and the squadron’s efforts.  The military information is excerpted from that.
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