Celebrating our Greatest Generation
World War II veteran Paul Schumacher will represent America’s Greatest Generation at the 73rd annual reunion of the 9th Infantry Division Association to be held this year in Southaven, Mississippi.
“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men should do nothing.” No one is quite sure who said it, but the quote has become one of the most popular in 20th century speeches and literature. And the triumph of evil certainly could have been the case in the 1940s if it weren’t for people like Paul Schumacher and others who served and made sacrifices in World War II. Now at age 94, Schumacher will join members of the U.S. Army 9th Infantry Division Association at the organization’s 73rd annual reunion July 20-23 in Southaven, Mississippi.
The association’s quarterly newsletter, The Octofoil, proposes the following question, “If we don’t remember, who will?”.
With that in mind, the 9th Infantry Division Association holds an annual reunion, as it has done every year since 1945. The reunions serve as an opportunity not only to reunite, but also to reminisce and share experiences and research about 9th Infantry Division family members or other related topics. The closest reunion to the Mid-South was held in New Orleans several years ago.
While membership in this association includes veterans of different wars, perhaps the most anticipated attendee will be 94-year-old World War II veteran, Paul Schumacher of Selmer, Tennessee.
Reunion attendees typically bring photos and mementos to display and discuss at the reunion, including Schumacher. What’s so fascinating about Schumacher is he shares his experiences with the memory of a man decades younger.
Born and raised in Indiana, Schumacher graduated high school in 1941. He was already attending college when he received his letter that he was being drafted.
“I felt it was inevitable I would go,” shares Schumacher. “We were getting reports about how bad things were going in the world. In school we talked about what Hitler was doing.”
He was given five days to return home and report to Fort McClellan, Alabama, for training. He was assigned to Company C, 39th Infantry Regiment, 9th Infantry Division.
“About 30,000 fresh troops were arriving every 13 weeks in Alabama. Soldiers were being shipped to the South Pacific, Europe, and Africa,” shares Schumacher.
Schumacher would go on to serve the majority of his 4.5 years of service in overseas combat. He recalls that his platoon never fought at full strength, and they almost always seemed to be moving.
“We slept with our clothing, socks, and shoes on. Our helmets were always close by. It was constant noise. I was always tired and fatigued. I probably got about two hours of sleep each night. We never really rested as we alternated guard duty,” he recalls.
“I had my first shower in nine months around Thanksgiving 1944,” says Schumacher. “I finally got a break from the frontline and spent about a day and a half in Belgium. I had coffee and donuts and slept on a couch. I also had my uniform washed.”
He is happy to talk military strategy and the success of the Marshall Plan. He will testify that WWII generals were not out for personal glory, and that one of the most outstanding leaders was Army General Omar N. Bradley. But, he would prefer not to discuss the liberation of Nordhausen-Dora, a Nazi concentration camp in Germany, in the spring of 1945. He will only say that he remembers marching past the liberated holocaust camp as medics from the 9th Infantry Division assisted the remaining survivors.
Once back stateside, Schumacher would be introduced to his future wife while recuperating with a broken leg in a Memphis hospital. She was enlisted in the Navy with plans to become a Navy nurse. After the war ended, Schumacher would go on to finish college and eventually marry Ellen in June 1948.
Pursuing a career in aeronautical engineering and the demands of family life would keep him busy for the next few decades. However, he managed to keep in touch with at least 50 other servicemen after the war through letters and visits.
Schumacher made his first trip back to Germany at the age of 67 and his first trip back to Normandy at age 72. He and his wife returned to Europe 12 times over the years. After retirement, he began attending the reunions in 1995.
This year’s reunion co-chairs are Jeanette Baswell Taylor of Collierville, Tennessee and her sister-in-law, Glenda Baswell of Ackerman, Mississippi.
“We started going to the reunions with my father, J.W. Baswell, a World War II veteran,” explains Taylor. “Of course, now the responsibilities of organizing the reunions fall to the children and grandchildren of our veterans, but we carry on the tradition.”
Baswell also began going to the reunions with her father-in-law.
“I attended my first reunion in New York. It was the late 1980s or early 1990s. Although my father-in-law is now deceased, I continue to attend almost every year.”
Each year, the reunion rotates to a different locale, affording the veterans and their families an opportunity to visit another part of the country. Guests attend from all parts of the United States.
“We are extremely excited to be hosting the reunion in the South this year,” says Taylor. “We intend on using that hospitality that Southerners are known for to make it a memorable experience.”
Friday evening as guests arrive, they will be served a “down home” meal. The menu will include Southern favorites, such as fried chicken, sweet tea, and banana pudding. Saturday’s events include a memorial service presented by the color guard, show and tell presentations by the attendees, and touring area landmarks. The guests will then board a riverboat in Memphis, Tennessee, for a dinner cruise and entertainment. Sunday’s main event will be a banquet dinner, raffle, and entertainment held at The Red Barn Reception Hall in Hernando, Mississippi. Other informal events are planned, including tours of Graceland and Elvis’ birthplace in Tupelo.
“My favorite part of the reunion is the memorial ceremony,” shares Schumacher. All of the soldiers he served with have passed away. The memorial serves as a way to commemorate the sacrifice of those who served and their families.
He elaborates, “Everyone in the world went through the Depression, but we came out in different directions. The importance of sacrifice is what I want this generation to know about. Being part of the greatest generation meant sacrifice on the home front, too. From the manufacturing to the rations, it was a coming together which I’m not sure we’ll see again.”