Berks

2018 American Red Cross heroes: Military

Herbert Schneider

Her shores offer freedom, opportunity, and the chance at a better life. More than two million eastern European immigrants saw the U.S. shores for the first time in the early 1900s, searching for religious freedom.

Families looking to provide and prosper went to work, and Herbert Schneider's parents were among them. In 1923, they moved their young family from the Bronx to Reading. Herbert was the oldest of three and went on to college, studying business at Drexel University. He graduated in June 1940.

"I applied to the Marine Corps. There was no draft that that time," Herbert recalled. "I flunked the eye test. I didn't have 20/20 vision, so they didn't accept me. Thank goodness, or I wouldn't be there today. A second lieutenant lasted in the south Pacific about a half-hour."

Instead, he got a job in Macy's back in New York, but it wasn't long before the military came calling.

"In July of 1941, I was called for the draft," he explained. "That's how I got into the Army. My number came up. July of '41."

The United States was in the midst of World War II. Nazi Germany had just invaded the Soviet Union. It was before the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Here at home, Herbert was sent to officers candidate school, aviation ordnance, where, for 13 weeks, he learned about fuses for bombs and pyrotechnics.

The 351st Bomb Group was being formed in Spokane, Washington. Herbert was assigned to it and moved around the U.S., training and waiting to head out to war.

"We weren't supposed to know where we were going, but Clark Gable was in our outfit, and my mother had sent me an article that Clark Gable had arrived in England, so we knew, ha ha, the big secret," Herbert said.

They landed in Polebrook, England, where the Rothschild estate became an airport for big bombers. Herbert was a first lieutenant in charge of the men who loaded bombs and ammunition onto the B-17s. The "Flying Fortresses" were bombing Germany and France.

"We flew 52 missions without a loss," Herbert said. "Now, that included Schweinfurt. Sixty planes were shot down over Schweinfurt. That's an amazing feat."

August 17, 1943, it was an ambitious plan to cripple the German aircraft industry. We lost 600 men in one raid.

"You know you're going to have casualties, and you're just hoping it's not somebody you know," Herbert said. "They were the real heroes. Every once in awhile you recall something that happened."

Like the day Herbert's crew was bombing up the Patty Anne Second for an early-morning mission. It was going as planned until one of the bombs fell as it was being hoisted into place. It was attached to a cable, and on its way down the bomb bay, the cable caught the fin of another bomb. The bomb was now dangling out of the fortress.

"The fuse was about half an inch from the tarmac," Herbert said. "Otherwise, it would have killed everyone who was loading." ;

They ran for the trenches and bunkers. Two men headed to Herbert's office, and when he heard what happened, he led them back to the B-17 and, with a flashlight, crawled inside the bomber. For 45 minutes, he worked on the bomb, putting the small safety blocks that had fallen out of the fuse back in. If it had slipped while he was working on it, that would have been the end.

Without any hesitation, he bravely saved not only his own life but the lives of all those men.

"I was so happy. It was a thrill that I could do it, that it had stopped," Herbert said. "It just amazes me even now."

Herbert went back to his office that day and the days after. The story of how he put that bomb back together spread. He was later awarded the Soldier's Medal for Bravery.

In November 1945, he was discharged from the Army, but it was not the end of his military service. He was married in 1947 and joined the 148th Fighter Squadron in Pennsylvania's Air National Guard.

He went on to serve in the Korean War.

"Happy to be alive," Herbert said. "Yeah."

This past December, Herbert celebrated 100 years, a centenarian celebrating his life and all those moments that make it worth living.


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