(Video: Marine WWII veteran John Schoenecker celebrates his last Marine Corps birthday at the Semper Fi Bar and Grille)
A Marine veteran who served alongside the legendary “Chesty” Puller has passed away after nearly a century of life.
Born in in New York in September of 1920, John Schoenecker was the son of a World War I veteran and no stranger to the stories of war. After graduating from high school and heading off to college, he worked his days at a hospital in Albany, where his future wife -Margaret Coogan- was training to be a nurse.
All seemed well until December 7, 1941, the day the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and the United States formally entered the Second World War. Though his future wife would later become an officer in the Army, Schoenecker felt he needed to do something right away and enlisted.
“I wasn’t going to wait, I wanted to serve, so two other fellows and I went down to the Marine Recruiting Station to join up,” he told The Citizens in 2017. “Shoot, I was the only one who passed the physical.”
Claiming he joined the Marines to be with the best, he admitted that while he could not recall boot camp, he remembered being sent with the 1st Marine Division to a little chain of islands in the Pacific- particularly one named Guadalcanal.
“I served under one of the greatest Marines of all time, Gen. Lewis B. ‘Chesty’ Puller, and I was personal friends with Gunnery Sgt. John Basilone … he always called me ‘Jackie’, just like my mom.”
Of course, “Chesty” Puller needs no introduction, nor does John Basilone. The former is a near-religious icon amongst Marines and remains the most decorated Marine in history. The latter was awarded the Medal of Honor for incredible feats of bravery and perseverance in combat before being killed during the invasion of Iwo Jima.
When Schoenecker fell ill with malaria, Basilone visited his parents to tell them he was alright.
“Basilone visited my parents before going to Iwo,” he recalled. “He assured them that I had not been wounded, that I only had a bad case of malaria, and that I’d be OK. He set my parents’ minds at ease.”
A Quartermaster Supply Sergeant, Schoenecker was a popular guy with an impossible task- keeping Marines supplied, even when there were little to no supplies to go around.
“The guys needed everything, ammo, c-rations, uniforms, water, and rifles- we replaced rifles,” he said. “We used 1903 bolt-action Springfields from WWI; the Army had the best rifles, the M-1 Garands.”
While supply troops in modern times are often far removed from the fighting, Schoenecker was regularly subjected to the horrors of war- often in a way best described as up close and personal.
“One night during a [naval] shelling, I was in a bunker with three other guys,” he said. “Well, nature called so I left the bunker to visit the latrine. The bunker took a direct hit, killing those other three men.”
Schoenecker battled malaria for a long time, including when he was sent back to the states to attend Officer Candidate School. At one point, it became too much and he was forced to call his wife, then an Army nurse.
“I called Margaret and told her how ill I was with malaria,” Schoenecker said. “She researched the disease, treated me, and helped me back to health. You know, I fell for Margaret on our first date, we went dancing, and we danced for the next 71 years.”
Never far at heart from his beloved Corps, Schoenecker was a regular at the Semper Fi Bar and Grill in Woodstock, Georgia, who broke news of his passing.
While he was there, he took part in a great tradition during the Marine Corps’ Birthday on November 10. The tradition in question involves the oldest present Marine to take the first piece of cake and pass it to the youngest Marine, symbolizing the passing down of Marine traditions and values from one generation to another.
Needless to say, Schoenecker was the “oldest” for some time.
This coming November, another Marine will fill Schoenecker’s role in the passing of the cake- but nobody can ever replace him.
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