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Sunday, Sep. 21, 2014

Veteran recalls memories of war

Tuesday, June 1, 2004

(Photo)
Vernon "Sheenie" scherer displays his medals.
NEW HAMBURG - "I don't know if I would do it again, but looking back, it probably wasn't as bad as it seemed at the time," said Vernon "Sheenie" Scherer about his service as a private first class in the Korean War.

While Monday was a day to reflect on those lost in battle, it was also a day many veterans recalled their own close brushes with death, including Scherer, who lost his right eye in Korea.

Originally, Scherer was going to be a prison guard when he enlisted in the winter of 1952. However, more replacements were needed on the line. "I was one of the lucky ones who got to go," Scherer chuckled.

"Never can I say I saw an enemy soldier." Scherer said with amazement. In fact, he reports "no major skirmishes" during his experience.

"When we were there, we would get one hot meal a day," Scherer said. The rest of the meals were rations in tin cans. His bunker, or shelter, was on top of a hill in North Korea. The bunkers were about 8 to 9-square feet and connected underground.

"When we were finished eating, we would just throw our trash down the hill," Scherer said, since there were no designated areas for trash.

In early February of 1953, Scherer's battalion commander visited his bunker for a routine inspection. The commander saw the debris of tin cans and didn't approve. Scherer remembers the commander saying: "Either go out there and clean that up at nighttime or next time I come around I'll make you clean it up in daylight."

Picking the trash up in the daylight would not be smart because they would be in direct sight and shooting path of the enemy soldiers less than a mile away.

The same night Scherer and his bunk mates had been reprimanded, Scherer and his squad leader went down the hill to pick up the tin cans. The other man stayed behind, since one man was required to be awake at all times to communicate with the nearby listening post. Scherer remembers there being a full moon that night.

"I was on my right knee, facing uphill at the bunker," Scherer recalled, saying the men were just throwing the cans further down the hill to be out of sight of the commander. Among the cans, Scherer found an old-style Chinese hand grenade. It was about the size of a bean or pea can, with a wooden handle. He threw it down the hill as well.

"Just as I turned around, I saw an explosion about six to eight feet away," Scherer said.

"I think it was booby-trapped. I might be 100 percent wrong, but I still think it was tied to an explosive that got me."

His squad leader, who was about 20-25 feet away, ran to get help. Scherer remembers being carried off.

A problem arose when they got back to his bunker. The underground trenches were curved to better deflect any bullets. Had the trenches been straight, the they could be demolished more easily.

"(There was) no way they could put me on a stretcher and carry me through the trenches," Scherer said.

With the full moon, it was not possible to leave by means of the roof, for fear of being seen by the enemy soldiers nearby.

He remembers a man they called Moody. "We knew everyone on a last name basis," Scherer said. Moody was just over 6-feet tall and weighed 150 pounds. The others helped Scherer to stand and laid his arms around Moody's shoulders. Moody then carried him through the trench and behind the hill to a waiting ambulance Jeep.

From this point, Scherer remembers very little of the next couple of weeks. He credits this memory loss to the large amounts of pain medications he received.

Scherer was transported to a MASH Unit for about a week, where he learned his right eye was completely destroyed.

On Feb. 10, Scherer arrived at the Tokyo Army Hospital. He remembers undergoing major surgery on his eye Friday the 13th.

Feb. 26, Scherer and others got on a plane to come back to the United States. However, something was wrong with the plane and the flight was postponed to Feb. 27, Scherer's birthday. He remembers leaving at 9 a.m. and arriving in Hawaii sometime before dark, where they stayed overnight. At the beginning of March, Scherer and his group reached San Antonio, Texas, where they stayed until mid-April. Scherer was then discharged and came back home to Missouri.

His ordeal wasn't all over yet. "For the next two to three years, I was still removing metal from my head," Scherer said.

There was a particular spot beneath his left eye that bothered him.

"I worked it like a loose tooth," Scherer said. Two years after the accident, he eventually pulled out a piece of wire, approximately one-half to three-quarters of an inch in length. There was also a smaller piece of wire on his hairline, the size of a scab, that he remembers withdrawing.

Another problem occurred three years after Scherer's accident. "I started having seizures for no reason," he said. Concerned, he went to the St. Louis Veterans Hospital.

The doctors never found a specific reason for the seizures. However, they prescribed a medicine to stop the seizures. To this day, he takes the medicine and has not had another seizure since.

Years later, in the early 1990s, Scherer was watching TV and saw a veteran receiving his medals of service. This veteran had only recently completed his service. Scherer remembers commenting: "Gosh, he's already getting his, its been close to forty years and I still haven't gotten any medals."

One of Scherer's sons, Jeff, overheard his comment and decided to look into it. With some help, Jeff obtained the medals his father deserved for his service.

In the fall of 1992, almost 40 years later, Scherer finally received his medals through the mail. Today, the medals - a Purple Heart, United Nations Service, Good Conduct, Combat Infantryman, Korean Service and National Defense Service - are enclosed in a frame in his home.