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20131105 Schaefer-vet AF  3063MISSION— Having grown up in war-torn Germany, Henry C. Schaefer recognizes members of the U.S. military as heroes who rescued him and his family from a time of death and destruction.

He was inspired to follow in their footsteps, and years later was honored himself to serve the U.S. in the Korean War. Schaefer, born in 1933, said he couldn’t begin to describe the torture he saw while growing up in Adolf Hitler’s Germany.

For a man who has experienced war twice over, time has healed his wounds. He speaks with a joyful presence, understanding his luck has brought him to the United States, a country he loved before he ever stepped on its soil.

Schaefer’s parents hailed from a Bavarian town called Elfershausen, but raised him in Offenbach am Main, Germany. He and his family feared for their lives every day during World War II, and he said his father was horrified by the slayings of innocent people he would see on his bike rides home from work.

Schaefer’s father died in 1942 from poison in a chemical reaction at his place of work. In 1943, the Nazis took his uncle to a clinic because of his inability to work due to his Parkinson’s disease. Two weeks later, the Nazis relayed the message the uncle was deceased and sent his ashes to his family.

Joining Hitler’s Youth, which focused on military training, was Schaefer’s only option to get along while living in a big city, and he vividly remembers bombs detonating and the ground rumbling, people running scared and injured. As a child, Schaefer said he did his best to assist people in need and put out fires in his town.

Once the bombing reached home, completely demolishing the apartment building he and his family lived in, Schaefer’s mother chose to move out of the city and back to farmland owned by her parents.

Soon after, all of the families in the area surrendered to the U.S. Army. Upon meeting soldiers from the U.S. Army, Schaefer knew he wanted to someday be a soldier himself. He can still remember the day he saw them for the first time, immediately knowing they were his heroes.

“It was the first time I had ever seen the U.S. Army; I was a kid only 12 years old,” Schaefer said. “They were so nice it was unbelievable, and they gave us candy. They came and stopped all of that nonsense. I admired them; I definitely wanted to leave the country, and I wanted to help people.”

World War II came to an end in 1945, and Schaefer said he had his heart set on becoming a U.S. citizen as well as enlisting in the U.S. Army. Schaefer legally immigrated to the U.S. in October of 1952.

Schaefer joked he could write a book alone on his journey from Germany to the U.S., but he never lost sight of his goal of stepping on U.S. soil.

Only a few short months later, Schaefer found himself serving in the army. He is a veteran of the Korean War 1953-1957 with the 101st Airborne Division and was honorably discharged as a sergeant. Schaefer also gained his citizenship in 1954.

After serving in the war, he continued to work for the U.S. government and retired at the age of 55 from the Department of f Defense as a Division Chief, GM-15. The veteran has spent the last 25 years living in Mission, and is a member of the American Legion Post 93 located in the area.

Schaefer says he is very lucky to be alive, and even luckier to have lived the life he wanted. He added he worked his way from the bottom in the Department of Defense and retired at a level equivalent to a colonel position.

“I was proud to serve; I figured this was going to be my country and I wanted to do the best that I could,” Schaefer said. “I was going to follow my heroes.”

Contact Andrielle Figueroa at

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