John J. Schumacher wears his World War II-issued uniform during Thursday’s program given to members of the Coon Rapids Rotary Club. The program was part of a Veterans Day salute.
John J. Schumacher wears his World War II-issued uniform during Thursday’s program given to members of the Coon Rapids Rotary Club. The program was part of a Veterans Day salute.
November 8, 2013



COON RAPIDS

John J. Schumacher has no idea what one of the ribbons adorning his chest means.

But the former private with the 194th Glider Infantry Regiment, 17th Airborne Division - a U.S. Army airborne unit - is proud of it nonetheless.

"I can't find anybody who knows what it is," he said. "But it was issued, and I wear it."

It joins many other ribbons and medals - some affixed to the Army uniform he donned for a Rotary Club meeting Thursday afternoon in Coon Rapids, and others laid out on a table before him.

As Veterans Day approaches, Schumacher joined Air Force Capt. Bill Howell to shed light on some of the military accoutrements people grow used to seeing but often don't understand.

Howell spoke first, dressed in a green flight suit.

As he pulled out a paper describing some of the patches he wore, Howell joked, "All these pockets, and I have no glasses in them."

Among other things, the pockets hold gloves, in-flight checklists and a hat, he said.

He described the different patches adorning his flight suit. They represented the Tactical Air Command - a Major Command of the U.S. Air Force - the 347 Tactical Fighter Wing, and the 69th TFS Mission.

Howell took his descriptions a step further, though, using humor to make attendees at the Rotary Club meeting feel as though they were in the scenes he described.

You could always tell the type of soldier you came into contact with by his apparel, he said. "SACs (those in Strategic Air Command) wore their hats crisp," he said. "You looked at their boots. If you could see your face in their boots, you knew they were SAC - and you stayed away from them."

He added that single soldiers always carried extra patches.

"If you were single and flying you lost them when you went into bases, because you gave them away," he said.

Laughter often accompanied Howell's retellings.

Pilots' helmets told stories as well. When they were flying, the atmosphere was so thin that sunlight fell directly onto pilots' heads - so if there was a pocket of air between the helmet and a pilot's skull, it felt like a hot coal was burning their heads.

"When you became somebody, they actually formed a helmet to your head," he said. "The helmet completely fit to your skull and prevented hot spots."

As a pilot, Howell said, he sometimes flew at speeds reaching more than 2,000 mph.

"When a guy tried to sell me a sports car, he said, 'You really need to see this speed,'" Howell said. "I said, 'You don't understand. I don't need speed.'"

He told his audience that the attitudes portrayed in the movie "Top Gun" are accurate. He joked that he used to be called "AA" - one A stood for "arrogant," and the other stood "for a body part," he said.

Schumacher, wearing his Army uniform, also described the various patches, ribbons and medals he wore - including an Allied Airborne patch and a Bronze Star medal. He also wears a set of wings he received as a gift.

Although much of Howell and Schumacher's presentation was humorous, Schumacher closed on a serious note by reading an email from a Marine Corps colonel in Afghanistan.

It offered "advice to the next pop star asked to sing the national anthem at a ball game."

The message urged the singers not to use the performance as a way to showcase their vocal ability or looks.

"Save the vocal gymnastics and the physical gyrations for your concerts," the email read. "Just sing the song the way you were taught to sing it in kindergarten."

It urged the singers to imagine they were standing and singing in front of a row of veterans in their 80s, all wearing their uniforms, ribbons and medals - trying to show with the song that they're proud to honor their country.

"Francis Scott Key does not need any help," Schumacher read, as the audience smiled. "Semper fi (always faithful, the Marine Corps motto)."