John J. Schumacher holds a flag that flew in an airplane and then dropped in a military ceremony to honor the Allies.
John J. Schumacher holds a flag that flew in an airplane and then dropped in a military ceremony to honor the Allies.

May 18, 2015

Coon Rapids

John J. Schumacher, a Coon Rapids icon who served in U.S. Army at the Battle of the Bulge and other key World War II operations in Europe, turned 90 on March 28. He was in Belgium, a nation he knew well as a much younger man during the fierce fighting of the campaign to free a continent from the Nazi grip.

Schumacher rode a jeep carried by glider into enemy territory in Operation Varsity. He travels in more comfortable air accommodations these days. Recently, he received the Medal of Honor from the nation of Luxembourg for “selfless service and brave achievements” in World War II.

“I have to be one of the luckiest people who ever lived,” Schumacher told the Daily Times Herald last Thursday on his farm, just after a Coon Rapids Rotary Club meeting.

Schumacher served at the Battle of the Bulge, the bloodiest battle for Americans in World War II, one in which about half the 14,000 men on the 17th Airborne Division’s payroll wound up as casualties — and more than 80,000 Americans were killed, injured or captured.

Official Airborne statistics show that 92 percent of the field troops suffered frost bite. Schumacher — who drove a jeep and served as a mortar man — was among them. Seventy years later, he continues to experience frequent foot pain as a result.

In the early morning of March 23, 1945, Schumacher (pronounced “shoemaker”) joined thousands of Allied troops in Operation Varsity, an airborne assault on Germany along the Rhine River in Wesel. With a stomach full of a steak that tasted an awful lot like a “last meal,” Schumacher rode in the driver’s side of a jeep carried by a CG4A Glider, towed behind a C47 plane, from France to hostile German territory. No seat belts. No parachutes.

But he made it home to Coon Rapids.

“Then to survive farming, especially if you’re dealing with cows with young calves,” Schumacher said.

Born March 28, 1925, a son of German immigrants, Schumacher was raised in the Coon Rapids area, graduated from Coon Rapids High School in 1943. He married high school sweetheart Wanda on Valentine’s Day 1946, enjoyed 64 years of marriage until her death in 2010.

He still fits into his sharp, original-issue Army uniform.

During his visit to Europe in March he retraced steps from his service days.

“Every place we went, they presented us with something,” Schumacher said.