Knox soldier escorted younger brother's body home

KNOX

"We were out on maneuvers on the side of a mountain in Germany when I got word Dick had been killed," recalled Robert "Bob" Schettler. "I just sat down and bawled. Somebody came over to me and asked if I wanted to go back to camp and I just said ‘Yeah.'"

Dick was Richard Schettler. Dick was Bob's younger brother by about a year and half.

The Schettler brothers, from Knox, had enlisted in the army together Jan. 18, 1951, in Oil City. Dick was just 17 years old. Two weeks later they traveled to Erie with three other local men for their enlistment physicals. Four of the men passed.

"We decided we were there and we both passed (our physicals), so we just decided we would go on and go," Bob recently recalled at his Knox home.

Bob, who will turn 88 next week, went off to Fort Meade, Maryland, for basic training and Dick and fellow Knox resident Jack Canby headed to Camp Polk, Louisiana, for their basic training.

The Schettler brothers were home on leave together briefly after basic training before Bob was assigned to Camp Pickett in Virginia and Dick and Canby were shipped to Korea, where a war was raging.

"Dad and I and another brother drove Dick down to Pittsburgh to catch his flight," recalled Bob.

It would be the last time Bob and Dick talked to each other.

"I never heard from him," said Bob. "I think Mom and Dad got a few letters from him."

But it would be Bob who brought his younger brother back to Knox.

Tragedy in the river

The following account of the day Dick died in Korea is taken from Ned Forney's "The American Korean Experience" and is used with his permission.

"For Richard ‘Dick' Schettler, a 19-year-old PFC from Knox, Pennsylvania, and 40 of his buddies from Company E, 2nd Battalion, 279th Infantry Regiment, what should have been a routine river crossing on Aug. 18, 1952, turned into a deadly nightmare.

"While wading across the knee-deep river near Inje, North Korea, the men suddenly heard a massive rumbling.

"Glancing upriver to see what was going on, they saw a nine-foot wall of water barreling towards them.

"Stunned, and with no time to react, the men were instantly knocked off their feet and swept downriver.

"Within seconds, Schettler and 29 other soldiers, including a lieutenant who had jumped in to save his men, vanished in a torrent of dark, muddy water.

"Tragically, they had been caught in a flash flood caused by days of heavy rain from a recent typhoon.

"When the river was later dragged, PFC Schettler's body, along with a handful of others, was recovered. The rest were never found. The official cause of death for the thirty soldiers who perished was listed as: ‘Non-hostile, died other causes.'"

Dick, a mortar team crewman, was about a week away from finishing his tour in Korea when he died.

About two months before he died, Dick's unit engaged with enemy forces near Hadokkom-Gol, North Korea.

Severalmen were reported missing or killed following the fighting.

The area of the battle lies in the modern-day DemilitarizedZone.

Getting home

Communication and travel were extremely different in 1952. Bob said he received word of his brother's death in a letter from his grandmother.

"I wanted to get home," said Bob. "I went to the chaplain and I went to the Red Cross. Nobody seemed to be able to do anything."

Bob said a friend of his suggested Bob sign on for funeral escort duty while Bob's parents, Leo and Oma, filed a request asking that Bob serve as the escort for his younger brother's journey home.

"Somehow, it all worked out," said Bob. "The paperwork had to go through Washington D.C., but I made it."

Bob needed to get to the airport in Frankfort, Germany, to catch a plane to get home. His unit provided an open-top Jeep and a driver. By now winter had set in and it was a cold and slow trip.

"The plane was taking off at 7," said Bob. "We got there at 7:30"

But when Bob arrived at the airport, the plane was still on the tarmac.

"They had an engine problem," said Bob. "They got it fixed and we took off."

Bob flew into Massachusetts and caught a train to the military's graves registration center in New York City.

"That's where I picked up Dick," said Bob, his voice just barely a whisper. "We took the train to Pittsburgh."

In Pittsburgh, Bob and Dick were met by American Legion members.

"The American Legion, guys from right here in Knox, met us in Pittsburgh and escorted us here," said Bob. "I brought Dick home."

Back with family

Bob recalls his younger brother as full of fun.

"Oh but we had our scraps," said Bob. "I was older but he was bigger. He was 6-feet, two inches and I was smaller. But when we got into it, I knew what to do. I'd make him mad and then I could lick him."

Bob and Dick were close.

"If you saw him, you saw me and if you saw me, you saw him, we did everything together," said Bob. "We did a lot of fishing. As soon as school let out we'd head to the creek and catch a bunch of fish for supper."

Dick never married but he did have a girlfriend.

"We didn't know that at the time, though," said Bob with a smile.

Returning home with Dick, Bob had in his pocket a key to open his brother's casket.

"I didn't tell anybody I had it," said Bob. "They had told us (Dick) was missing an arm. That wall of water well, there was a two and a half-ton truck in the river with them and all they found of it was a tail light.

"I guess we really don't know what was in the casket. I never looked in it either."

Bob said his parents didn't talk about Dick very often after the funeral.

"I think Dad felt pretty bad because he said sometimes if he had been able to help Dick get a farm, Dick would have never enlisted and gone to Korea," said Bob.

The army sent Dick's personal effects home in a trunk.

Again, from Ned Forney's "The American Korean Experience:"

"It took my mother 35 years to permit us to open the trunk that was returned upon his death," said Patricia Organsky, younger sister of Dick Shettler.

"The terrifying image of her brother being swept away and drowning in the raging water haunts her to this day.

"Although only nine when the tragedy occurred, she remembers it as if it were yesterday, ‘I have never forgotten when the telegram arrived,' she recalled, ‘and the remorse of my parents.'

"It took my mother 35 years to permit us to open the trunk that was returned upon his death. Only then could we allow Dick to rest in peace. I grieve his loss every day."

Bob said the trunk is in his garage today.

Inside the trunk were a couple of Dick's caps and other items, including a camera.

"There was a roll of film in it," said Bob. "It had been in there all those years. We took and got it developed. I think that's where that one photo of him in Korea came from."

Another batch of Dick's personal belongings found its way back to Knox later.

"A fellow from Bradford, I don't remember his name now, he brought some of Dick's things back to Mom and Dad," recalled Bob. "Somebody over there (Korea) had thrown it on the burn pile.

"That fellow from Bradford, he scooped them out of there and brought them home to Mom and Dad."

Bob did not return to active duty after he brought his younger brother home as his enlistment ended not too long later.

Dick's military awards include the Combat Infantry Badge, the Korean Service Medal, the United Nations Service Medal, the National Defense Service Medal and the Republic of Korea War Service Medal.

Dick and Bob have two surviving bothers, Jim and Ted, and four surviving sisters, Pat, Joyce, Ginny and Barb. One sister, Dorothy, is deceased.

U.S. Army PFC Richard "Dick" Schettler, forever 19 years old, is buried in Union Cemetery in Knox.

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