Schmitz worked overseas in aircraft armament during the Korean War

Courtesy/Alfred Schmitz: 
A young Alfred Schmitz is pictured in his Air Force uniform in the early 1950s.
Courtesy/Alfred Schmitz: A young Alfred Schmitz is pictured in his Air Force uniform in the early 1950s.

There was not any naivety in the foresight of Alfred Schmitz after he graduated from St. Peter High School in Jefferson City in 1950. Although he briefly went to work at a local lumberyard to try and make a living, the realities of the military draft remained a present concern for him and many of his friends.

Rather than waiting to be involuntarily drawn into the service, Schmitz made the decision to join the U.S. Air Force.

Enlisting in January 1951, he traveled to Lackland Air Force Base in Texas for his initial training. However, he said he missed several days of some of the most intense parts of the training cycle due to a family emergency.

"My grandfather lived with my parents back in Jefferson City, and he died while I was in training," Schmitz recalled. "I got to come home for the funeral and during those 14 days, I missed doing the gunnery range and some of the tougher types of training."

After returning to Texas, he was sent to Lowry Air Force Base in Denver to complete armament school. It was during the next several weeks that he learned how to load bombs, rockets and assorted other armaments on a jet known as the F-80C Shooting Star.

Toward the latter part of April 1951, he received orders to deploy to Korea and soon boarded a troopship. Following a brief stop in Japan, he arrived at his destination and was assigned to support the 35th Fighter Squadron at Suwon Air Base in South Korea.

He recalled, "When we first got over there, the Army had some heavy guns nearby that sounded like they were in our backyard when they went off. But as the war went on a little longer, the further away they got, and then it became a little quieter."

Schmitz continued, "The airfield had also been made from mud at first, but they laid this steel mesh over it so that it would be easier for the aircraft to land. Also, we stayed in tents when we first got over there, but finally, they built some Quonset huts for us to use as our barracks."

One of the most notable memories of his time overseas occurred five minutes after his arrival at the air base in Korea. He watched as the main body of a jet crashed onto the runway, followed by the tail section plummeting to the ground behind it. Then, as he looked up, the pilot parachuted safely to the airfield.

While working to load armaments on the F-80s, the young airman could peer across the runway and watch some of his counterparts working on the F-84 Thunderjets and F-86 Sabres. The pilots of the squadron frequently conducted combat target training that occasionally resulted in deadly consequences.

"They had targets fixed to the side of a bluff and sometimes the pilots would get target fixation and not pull up in time, crashing into the bluff," he solemnly recalled.

With a grin, he shared details of another situation that was more humorous in nature.

"We had a pilot that got into one of the planes and couldn't figure out how to start it," he said with a laugh. "He was a good pilot and could fly the plane and land it, but after trying to figure out the starter, stuck his head out from the canopy and hollered, 'Do you know how to start this thing?'"

Considering their proximity to the combat zone, Schmitz and his fellow crewmembers carried their weapons wherever they traveled in the event of an enemy attack. But having missed out on much of the marksmanship training in boot camp because of his grandfather's funeral, he was at a slight disadvantage.

"I had a .45 pistol that I was issued, and I shot a whole box of shells at an old can and never did hit it ... so I finally quit trying," he said with a chuckle.

Despite the occasional lighthearted moments, there remained other circumstances that cast a shadow of sadness during many of their days. Schmitz affirmed several of the planes they loaded for combat never returned from their missions, shot down by enemy fighters.

When his deployment came to an end in May 1952, he transferred back to Lowry Air Force Base in Denver.

He spent the next six months helping with gunnery training for newer Air Force members.

Then, in November 1952, he was assigned to a squadron at Pine Castle Air Force Base in Florida.

"I finished my enlistment there and our main job was to look busy when the commanding officer came around," he joked. "But more seriously, there were a couple of times that some aircraft crashed in the swamps and I had to help search through the wreckage to recover any bombs or munitions."

Released from active duty in November 1953, he returned to Jefferson City and began working for his father, Toby Schmitz, who was the founder and owner of Toby's Cabinet Shop.

In May 1956, he married his fiancée, Irma Eggen, and the couple built their own family together.

Schmitz did not find an interest in carpentry, but did in the plumbing trade. A short time later, he started working for his uncle, who owned and operated Frank P. Schrimpf Plumbing and Heating.

He later purchased the plumbing business from his uncle, and it remains a family business now owned and operated by his youngest son, Jim Schmitz.

"Back when I was in Korea, they sure kept you busy, and one of the best parts about it was seeing that airfield come together and supporting our efforts in the war," Schmitz said.

"We all had to be there," he added. "But we managed to get by because we clung to the belief that you just as well be happy wherever you might be."

Jeremy P. Ämick is the author of the historical compilation "Moments on the Moreau."

  photo  Courtesy/Alfred Schmitz: Recognizing his likelihood of being drafted during the Korean War, Alfred Schmitz chose to enlist in the Air Force and deployed overseas as an armament technician. He is pictured with his late wife, Irma, with whom he attended St. Peter High School in Jefferson City and married in 1956.

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