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SchreinerMVP1.jpg 

 

(From Third Down and a War to Go) 

 

(Marine Dave Schreiner, from Lancaster, Wisconsin, was the Badgers' two-time All-American end and 1942 Big Ten Conference MVP.)     

 

As the Okinawa campaign continued, the men of A Company grew even fonder of Dave Schreiner.

 

“We were not foxhole buddies or anything like that,” recalled Private First Class Ed Liguori. “He was my lieutenant. He knew me as Eddie. They all called me Eddie. One day, we had gone two, two and a half days without food or water. There were a few cans of cheese, but we didn’t have much water. He disappeared. An hour later, he comes back up the hill where we were in our foxholes, and he had a box on his shoulder. In it were extra large cans of grapefruit juice. I still remember the color. They were tannish and greenish cans, with no name on them or anything. I don’t know where he stole it from or where he got it. But here he comes up this hill, and we all took three slugs of that grapefruit juice. I can’t have grapefruit juice now because of medication, but when I could, every time I drank grapefruit juice, I thought of Dave Schreiner.”

 

“We had some officers who were, very frankly, assholes,” said PFC Jim Harwood. “Most of the officers we had were good guys. They weren’t going to run you up for some little infraction that didn’t make any difference anyway. Dave was one of those types of guys who was lenient. He wasn’t going to give you a lot of hell for nothing.”

 

On June 18, Schreiner wrote his parents on American Red Cross stationery.

 

Dear Mother and Dad–

Rec’d letter of June 6 from you. Enclosed was a clipping about

Johnny Walsh. No I didn’t get any bronze star on Guam. I’ve still

got my medal. I can feel it when I put my hands behind me.

We’ve been eating very well of late. Fresh meat, good canned food

etc. And I’ve been sleeping a lot. Boy it’s good to rest.

Will write next chance I get. Don’t forget a company commander

is a pretty safe spot.

Much love,

Dave

 

★ ★ ★

 

On the night of June 19, Badger halfback Bud Seelinger, with the 29th Regiment, tracked down Schreiner and gave him several cans of fruit. The two Badgers again spoke of Baumann, and they were hopeful the fighting was coming to an end. Japanese had died by the thousands, and the organized resistance was lessening. But there was one more major pocket of resistance on the southern end of the island, near a gap in the American lines. By then, runner Vic Anderson had been wounded and evacuated, but he later heard from his buddies that Schreiner was sent out on what Anderson and others view as a needlessly dangerous mission near the west coast of Oroku Peninsula on June 20. Anderson said the mandate came from a “new silly-ass major who didn’t know that we didn’t go out after dark or after 4 or 5 o’clock, when the Japs would set up a lot of traps. He said, ‘Dave, you take that squad down there and see if there are any Japs in that gully and valley.’”

 

Gus Forbus, who by then was in a hospital at Tinian in the Mariana Islands, heard that an officer who joined the unit late in the battle ordered Schreiner to check on the lines. “The report I got on it was that they were putting in the lines for the night on the 20th, and he wasn’t satisfied,” Forbus said. “He wanted Dave to check it out. He was an Annapolis man, but he couldn’t pour water out of a boot.”

 

In 1993, John McLaughry wrote his memories of that day: My platoon of M-7’s was assigned to provide fire support for the 1st Battalion in an attack on the last enemy stronghold at the extreme southern point of Okinawa. The immediate objective was some very rugged terrain, an escarpment of boulders, sheer rock and caves . . . rising to nearly 300 feet. Prior to the attack Dave was moving his company into the line adjacent to the company our M-7’s were to support and I talked very briefly with him. He then, with a couple of his men, disappeared into the rocky area leading toward the Kiyama Gusuku hill mass.

 

So McLaughry remembered the patrol as a three-man mission, including Schreiner, and he believed it had a theoretical legitimate strategic justification in a prelude to an attack on the holdout Japanese troops. However, that leaves unanswered the issue of whether the patrol could have been delayed to the next day or was needlessly risky in the final stages of the battle.

 

Marine correspondent Don Petit’s later dispatch said Schreiner had walked ahead to scout. According to the dispatch, gunfire from a cave suddenly ripped into his left side. Vic Anderson said he heard it happened this way: “A Jap with a Nambu machine gun stepped out of a cave and shot him.”

 

Petit’s dispatch said a grenade exploded and fragments tore into both of his legs.

 

McLaughry’s written recollections made it clear he was skeptical of Petit’s version. McLaughry’s account: The attack had not yet jumped off when word came that Dave had been hit, shot by a sniper. There was no word on his condition. Because of my platoon’s connections with Dave, over the next few hours we tried to get as much information as possible and did hear on good authority that a bullet had hit him in the chest area, lodging in his spine.

 

Schreiner was shot in the upper torso. Despite the myths that spread both immediately and over later years, that’s indisputable.

 

The medics treating him and those who saw him remembered the upper torso trauma years later but weren’t sure if there were other wounds.

 

That said, even those interviewed acknowledged that they saw so many deaths, involving both friends and those they didn’t know, that circumstances sometimes ran together in their minds. Plus, they admitted the passage of nearly sixty years could make memories—even of very jarring incidents—become foggy. So, Schreiner might or might not have been hit by grenade fragments.

 

Regardless of the nature of his wounds, men from the patrol rushed to get Schreiner back to the unit’s lines. William Ramey, a corpsman and pharmacist’s mate, recalled working on Schreiner. He said he heard that Schreiner had gone out on that advance patrol with a first sergeant.

 

“We were trying to get plasma started,” Ramey recalled. “He told me, ‘Doc, they pulled a sneaky trick on us!’”

 

 

Some of the men, including Ramey, who also knew who Schreiner was and respected him immensely, took that to mean that Schreiner had been ambushed while accepting a surrender from Japanese. Word from the command post later trickled in to support that inference. (Depending on one’s definition of sniper, that could gibe with the story McLaughry heard.) Ramey believed Schreiner meant “they tricked him into coming down and shot him.”

 

He didn’t remember Schreiner mentioning a white flag, but he drew inferences and later heard others talk of a faked surrender. “It’s been a long time,” Ramey said slowly. “But somebody’s last words like that, they stick with you pretty good.” Ramey’s high regard for Schreiner, and his familiarity with him, virtually guarantees he didn’t mix up the circumstances of Schreiner’s injuries with anyone else’s.

 

Contrary to myth, many Japanese and conscripted Okinawans—about 10,000—surrendered on Okinawa. In the book Typhoon of Steel, the brother-author team of James and William Belote noted that surrenders increased from an average of about 50 per day from June 12–18, to 343 on June 19, and then to 977 on June 20, the day Schreiner was wounded. Japanese soldiers indeed were allowing themselves to be taken prisoner on the day Schreiner was on his final patrol. Still, the Belotes wrote, the Japanese soldiers who surrendered were exceptional, because most members of the 32nd Army still fought to the death. U.S. estimates of the Japanese battle deaths on June 19 and 20 totaled 5,000.

 

Charles Pulford, a private first class posted to the headquarters company, served as a runner for Barney Green before Green’s death. He said he was at the command post the day Schreiner suffered his wounds. He didn’t hear direct discussions between Schreiner and officers at the command post. Yet he was adamant that word of those discussions spread through the command post—along with the news that Schreiner was shot during a faked surrender. Pulford wasn’t sure which officers came up with the plan, but he said that planes dropped white pamphlets over the area. “The Japs were told that if they wanted to surrender, they would wave these pamphlets,” Pulford recalled. “I remember when the planes came over to drop them.” He believed it happened late in the afternoon. Though his first thought was that it happened on the day Schreiner was wounded, he wasn’t certain of that. But he was certain that Schreiner contacted the command post on his patrol.

 

“Being there at the C.P.,” Pulford said, “I heard that Dave had called back to find out what to do. They dropped these pamphlets, and evidently Dave had seen Japs waving them. . . . He was told to take an interpreter and crawl up there and see what he could arrange.”

 

Who told Schreiner that?

 

“I imagine it had to be the commanding officer at the C.P., or it might even have been regimental,” Pulford said. “Then shortly after that, we heard that he had crawled up there, and when he raised up to talk to them, they

machine-gunned him.”

 

Schreiner went in and out of consciousness after he was brought back to the lines.

 

PFC Ed Liguori was in his foxhole when he heard someone yell, “The lieutenant’s been hit!” He scrambled out of his foxhole and went to where Ramey was treating Schreiner.

 

“He was unconscious, breathing heavily, and it bwas so sad,” Liguori recalled. “He wasn’t moving. He wasn’t talking. There might have been a moan. They were giving him plasma. They were giving him fluids through his ankle because the blood vessels collapsed. I didn’t know anything about it at the time, being a young, dopey kid. But later, when I was teaching, I learned about these things. They couldn’t find any blood vessels in his arm, so they were administering plasma in his ankle. I guess they found a vein down there.”

 

In a bizarre twist, PFC Cal Danielson—the young Marine from Rio, Wisconsin, who as a teenager had met and worshipped Schreiner—was in the area and also heard the word that Schreiner had been hit. He was with the First Division’s 5th Regiment. “Somebody said, ‘Lieutenant Schreiner got it!’” Danielson remembered. “I rushed over there. I’m not sure exactly what I said—it was a long time ago—but I tried to say something about football and how tough he was. I was pretty shook up.”

 

PFC Vern Courtnage, a driver who did work for companies in the battalion, had transported Schreiner often, and he saw him right before he was loaded onto a jeep to be taken to an aid station. “He was on the ground, on a stretcher, with a covering over him,” Courtnage said. “The corpsmen were working on him, and they loaded him into the jeep. My friend drove the jeep; his name was Duane Carey. We loaded him onto that jeep, and everybody was wishing him well, and he was conscious. The last words he spoke, that I heard, anyway, were, ‘If any of you guys think I’m crying, I’ll get out of here and kick the shit out of you!’ That stuck with me all those years.”

 

The men watched their lieutenant leave in the jeep. They had seen their buddies die, they had crawled over bodies as if they were rocks, and they were steeled to death, even as they knew it might come to them.

 

But, god, why Schreiner?

 

James Singley, the PFC in the weapons company who had served under Schreiner on Guam, was near Schreiner’s company that day on Okinawa. He immediately heard one of the inaccurate stories about Schreiner’s wounds.

 

“Word came down the line that Dave had gotten shot by a sniper right between the eyes,” Singley said. “Now, when somebody who was well-liked got shot, we always passed the word down the line. Word came down that

that’s what happened. You never knew whether it’s what happened exactly, but that’s what came down the line about Dave.”

 

Obviously, if that had happened, Schreiner would have died immediately. But it’s illustrative of the way stories—often inaccurate—spread among the men.

 

Schreiner underwent emergency surgery at a field hospital. But there wasn’t much hope. David Nathan Schreiner died the next day, June 21, 1945. He was twenty-four.

 

The doctors let his buddies know that even if they had managed to save him, he probably would have been paralyzed. “I was told he was injured in such a way in the spine that he never would be able to do anything,” Mark

Hoskins said, the words catching in his throat even decades later.

 

The official dispatch makes no mention of a faked surrender. That raises the question: Why cover that up? If Schreiner died as he gave the benefit of the doubt to surrendering Japanese, that doesn’t render his death less tragic than if he had been struck down by a sniper or a soldier emerging from a cave. In fact, in June 1945, yet another example of Japanese battlefield treachery would have been appropriate as the nation braced for an invasion of the Japanese home islands.

 

However, if Schreiner’s death was the indirect result of being ordered to try to arrange a surrender, and the pamphlet drop ended up endangering Schreiner and others, there would be reason to create a more conventional

battle scenario for Schreiner’s death. It would save face for the officers who had ordered Schreiner to attempt to arrange a surrender.

 

George Feifer’s book Tennozan discusses in depth the dilemma of American troops when deciding whether to accept surrenders, given the horrific fighting and barbaric Japanese tactics—and not just on Okinawa. Feifer doesn’t claim to have discerned the actual numbers of Japanese and conscripted Okinawans who died after trying to give up, but he makes it clear that the number was significant. It also is clear that A Company added to that toll, and part of that was a response to rumors of how the popular Schreiner was mortally wounded. Again, it’s important to note that Schreiner was hit on a day when Japanese and Okinawan surrenders were increasing. There were strategic reasons to accept surrenders, if information about the location and strength of surviving Japanese defenders could be gathered. But that didn’t mean that all those signaling an intention to surrender were sincere.

 

“There was a bunch of us mad,” Ramey recalled. “Everybody thought a lot of Dave. It made everybody so mad, they didn’t take no more prisoners. That was the end of that outfit taking prisoners.”

 

Charles Pulford said, “Everyone was in shock. I remember that. And everybody was mad. I mean, mad. . . . We decided not to take prisoners. But we did let the civilians through.”

 

Danielson, the Marine from Rio, said that in his brief encounter with Schreiner after he was wounded, he didn’t hear Schreiner say anything about

an ambush, but the word quickly got around that Schreiner had said something along those lines before Danielson arrived.

 

Judy Corfield, Schreiner’s niece, said that her late mother (and Schreiner’s sister), Betty Johnson, attended a Sixth Marine Division reunion in Chicago in 1996. At the reunion, several members of Schreiner’s platoon told Johnson that Dave indeed had been accepting a surrender, under a white flag, from several Japanese. The story, handed down orally, was different from the version Charles Pulford remembered from being at the command post.

 

According to the account Betty Johnson heard, Dave had been wary as the small Japanese party approached him, and when the Japanese soldier in front bowed, he had a rifle hidden behind his back. A Japanese man reached forward and fired the rifle at Schreiner, and another tossed a grenade.

 

Connie Sherman, Schreiner’s longtime friend, recalled that after the news of his death reached Lancaster, the story circulating around town was that he had been shot in the back.

 

So there are conflicting stories about Schreiner’s death, and they almost certainly will never be resolved. However he was mortally wounded, Schreiner’s death on June 21 came just hours before Major General Roy S. Geiger

declared that organized resistance had ended and the island was secure. Geiger had succeeded Lieutenant General Simon Bolivar Buckner as commander of the forces when Buckner was struck in the chest by an artillery shell shard and killed on June 18. Geiger’s declaration was premature; isolated resistance and U.S. mop-up operations continued.

 

Lieutenant General Mitsuru Ushijima, commander of the Japanese 32nd Army, committed suicide on June 22.

 

Tenth Army commander Lieutenant General Joseph W. Stilwell declared the campaign over on July 2.

 

Bud Seelinger had lost two teammates on Okinawa. Other Seelinger buddies were killed, too, but he couldn’t help being more torn up by the deaths of Baumann and Schreiner. “He was just heartsick,” recalled his wife, Mary

Elaine Seelinger. “He was broken up.”

 

He wasn’t alone.

 

“Just a beautiful man died,” Vic Anderson said sadly, years later.

 

Not far from where Schreiner was wounded, a young Army sergeant with the First Amphibious Special Engineer Combat Brigade, Henry Reese, also took the news badly. Hey, Dave Schreiner got killed! Reese was from Monroe, Wisconsin, and as a high school student he had met Schreiner during a visit to his older sister in Ann Emery Hall. Reese also worked at his uncle’s restaurant— Mickies Dairy Bar, directly across Monroe Street from Camp Randall Stadium. “Dave’s death hit home, let’s put it that way, more than any other over there for me,” Reese said. “I had seen him play football several times, and he was kind of my hero.”

 

In the hospital on Tinian, Sergeant Gus Forbus was beginning his long recuperation from his leg wounds. A young Marine, another member of the 4th Regiment, came into his room.

 

“Sarge,” he told Forbus, “I’ve got some bad news.”

 

“Oh, shit,” said Forbus. “Don’t tell me Dave got killed.”

 

“Yup.”

 

Forbus broke down.

★ ★ ★

 

Schreiner’s final letter home arrived in Lancaster on June 25. He was already dead. His parents didn’t know that as they opened the letter with his return address in the left-hand corner.

 

Lt. David N Schreiner

Co A 1st Bn 4th Marines

6th Mar. Div.

FPO—San Francisco

 

And they read their son’s reassuring final line—the one about a company commander being in a relatively safe position.

 

★ ★ ★

 

Judy Johnson, Schreiner’s niece, was three and a half years old. “I was visiting my grandparents, which I did regularly, because I wasn’t in school yet,” Judy (now Judy Corfield) recalled. “My mother would send me there to keep them busy. I would spend a lot of time going back and forth to the Hoskins home, too, which was only a block away, especially after Charles died and Had was imprisoned. That kept everybody busy, taking care of Judy.”

 

The news arrived at the telegraph office the night of June 28, after the office was closed.

 

Everyone in Lancaster knew the Schreiners’ habits. They were up every day at 5:30 a.m. On June 29, the delivery boy arrived at the door a little after 7:00. He handed the telegram to Bert Schreiner. The proud father pulled the sheet out of the envelope.

 

70 GOVT

WASHINGTON, D.C.

8:41 P.M., JUNE 28, 1945

MR. AND MRS. HERBERT E. SCHREINER

216 SOUTH TYLER

LANCASTER, WIS.

DEEPLY REGRET TO INFORM YOU THAT YOUR SON FIRST

LIEUTENANT DAVID N. SCHREINER USMCR DIED 21 JUNE 1945

OF WOUNDS RECEIVED IN ACTION OKINAWA ISLAND RYUKYU

ISLANDS IN THE PERFORMANCE OF HIS DUTY AND SERVICE OF

HIS COUNTRY. WHEN INFORMATION IS RECEIVED REGARDING

BURIAL YOU WILL BE NOTIFIED. TO PREVENT POSSIBLE AID

TO OUR ENEMIES DO NOT DIVULGE THE NAME OF HIS SHIP OR

STATION. PLEASE ACCEPT MY HEARTFELT SYMPATHY.

A A VANDERGRIFT GENERAL USMC

COMMANDANT OF THE MARINE CORPS

 

It is one of Judy’s earliest memories. She stood at the window and watched the delivery boy walk away, down the hill and back to the telegraph station.

 

“The bad news has arrived,” Bert Schreiner told his wife and granddaughter.

 

He did the best he could to comfort Anne. Then he called the Hoskins and Carthew homes.

 

Doris Hoskins, Mark’s mother, knocked on the bedroom door. Mark and Mary Hoskins still were asleep.

 

“You’d better get up,” she said softly. “I have some bad news.”

 

Both Mark’s and Mary’s parents had already been over to the Schreiners’ home. When his parents told him about Schreiner, Mark cried.

 

Almost immediately, he was called to the phone. The caller was a shaken Harry Stuhldreher. The Wisconsin coach told Hoskins he was leaving for Lancaster immediately. Hoskins rushed over to the Schreiners’.

 

Mark still sobbed years later, recalling the day.

 

★ ★ ★

 

Newspapers in both Milwaukee and Madison put out extras.

 

Oh, god, not Dave Schreiner!

 

The Wisconsin State Journal ’s front page headline:

 

Dave Schreiner Dies

Of Wounds on Okinawa;

Fiancee flying here

 

The story said that Ensign Odette Hendrickson, who had received degrees in English and art from Wisconsin before joining the WAVES, was stationed at Hunter College in the Bronx. She was reported to be returning to Madison, where she would pick up her mother, Lula, and then head to Lancaster.

 

A Milwaukee extra story carried a full banner headline across the top of the front page: “Schreiner Killed on Okinawa.” A huge picture of a smiling Schreiner covered much of the top half of the page; the caption simply said,

“Lieut. David N. Schreiner.”

 

The July 5 issue of the weekly Grant County Independent carried the entire Marine Corps dispatch describing Schreiner’s death, plus a boxed “In Memoriam” statement from Stuhldreher. The coach declared: “At Wisconsin,

we called him ‘Big Dave,’ not because of his physique but because of his all-around makeup. His personality, modesty, unselfishness, and friendship all were big. His loss leaves a big vacuum—as big as Dave himself was in all

ways—in all our lives.” The story also said that in Lancaster “he was known and idolized by the whole community. But the news of his death saddened the whole state, for he was known to thousands throughout the country as

one of the great collegiate football stars of recent years.”

 

In the State Journal on July 1, Henry J. McCormick wrote:

 

If there was ever a better football player at the University of Wisconsin, I never knew him. If there was a better end who ever played football any place, I never saw him. And if there was a boy who wore his honors with more modesty than Dave Schreiner, I never knew him. It wasn’t so long ago that Dave’s father and I had a long talk. Naturally, he was worried about Dave, but he was philosophical.

 

“Whatever happens,” said Mr. Schreiner, “I know that Dave is doing what he wanted to do.” Mr. Schreiner reflected a moment. “You know,” he said, “Dave had a chance to be assigned as a physical instructor when

he finished training, but he requested that he be given active duty. And that’s the way it should be.”