Monday, August 8, 2011

A Strange Brass Vase

I spent a lot of my time in Dallas going through old family papers and photos that haven't seen the light of day in more than 50 years. Many mysteries were solved, old misinformation corrected, and some new discoveries were made.

Among those new discoveries was information about a curious brass vase that I've always known, and that my mother sent to me about a week ago. She always displayed flowers in it, and my grandmother put irises in it when she owned it.

It turns out that this curious vase is a German artillery shell from World War I. My grandfather picked it up on a battlefield in France.

Here is the bottom with all of the markings. It was made in February 1915 in an ordinance factory in Karlsruhe.

Here is my grandfather, Harry Schumacher in 1918. He graduated from Washington University Medical School in St. Louis, and joined his classmates when they all went down to the enlistment office immediately after commencement. With them, he was sent to France to the front lines as a medical officer.

Here is my grandfather's company. He appears on the back row, second from the left. The names of all of these men are inscribed on the back of the photo, but the writing is now very hard to read and almost illegible.

At the end of the war, my grandfather received a victory medal just like this one. We discovered it in a box among his papers. We keep it in the safety deposit box now.

After the war, Lieutenant Schumacher became Doctor Harry Schumacher, a country doctor in Altamont, Illinois where he practiced for the rest of his life. He thought nothing of traveling over muddy and dusty roads, through deep snow drifts to remote isolated farms to visit patients who frequently had very little with which to pay him. Sometimes distances and travel conditions would be so difficult that he would spend the night as a guest on these farms. During the Great Depression, he was one of the very few doctors in the area who accepted payment in barter. This meant a lot to debt ridden farmers desperately trying to hold on to their farms, and they never forgot him for this. My mother remembers eating very well during the Depression. Minor house calls might mean fresh produce and boxes of preserves, minor surgery might mean a chicken, and major treatments and surgery would mean a cow or a pig sent straight to the butcher for the doctor.

Probably his most painful military service was not during the Great War, but as a member of the local draft board during World War II from 1942 to 1943. We were losing the war during that period. American forces in the Pacific suffered a series of disastrous defeats at the hands of the Japanese with thousands of casualties. Dr. Schumacher had to send young men he had known since their births into battle and to probable death. It was too much and he asked to be discharged from that duty after a little over a year.

Dr. Harry W. Schumacher died in 1949 at the age of 59 and is buried in Union Cemetery in Altamont.

He received a medal just like this one when he left the Selective Service in 1943. We keep it in the safety deposit box with his WWI victory medal.


it's margaret said...

--an appropriate re-cycling of a bomb shell. And God bless your Grandfather.

it's margaret said...

...the words 'salt of the earth' come to mind...

Counterlight said...

He seems to have had an uncomplicated sense of duty to his friends, his neighbors, and his country all of his life. The question, "what's in it for me?" appears never to have come up.

June Butler said...

Counterlight, your grandfather was quite a man. You should be proud.

He seems to have had an uncomplicated sense of duty to his friends, his neighbors, and his country all of his life.

What a way to live a life. He's a model for us all.

About the brass vase, it makes me think of the passage from Psalms about beating swords into ploughshares - a new life of a container for flowers for the shell that was manufactured for the purpose of destruction.

JCF said...

So you never knew him: that's sad. [My grandfather fought in the Great War too. He lived until I was 11, so I got to know him a bit.]

The shell-vase is a great memento. Now, if only EVERY weapon could be turned into a vase (plowshare, etc). War No More!!!

Lapinbizarre said...

They were common in the UK when I was a child. We had one. Makes you wonder, when you consider how much ordnance was slung to and fro on the Western Front during the Great War, just how much brass was used in shell casings. Suppose they just re-cycled.

Lapinbizarre said...

ps Usually they were ornaments rather than vases. They were so top-heavy that they would have overturned far to easily with flowers in them, and water would have triggered verdigris in no time.