Col. William H. Schaefer, U. S. Army, Ret.

Last month we attended a pleasant gathering at White's Bookstore where retired Colonel William H. Schaefer was autographing his newly published book on economics, Shares. It is a small and interesting volume written in parable form. It explains in painstakingly simple and logical fashion the monetary system and its fallacies, and at the end offers some of Colonel Schaefer's uncluttered thinking on what should be done about this mess.

We have been an admirer of the Colonel for many years. His unfortunate capture early in the Mediterranean campaign of World War II, and his subsequent long incarceration as a German prisoner of war, interrupted an outstanding military career and deprived the Army and the country of a personality that would have been one of its top General Officers. Colonel Schaefer might best be described in the words of Dr. William Bean, who spoke of an eighteenth century English physician as a man who ". . . has lived a life of quiet rebellion against some of the organized assininities of contemporary existence." From our own past experience, we can vouch for Colonel Willie's rebelliousness, his integrity and intellect, and his direct, forceful approach to problems.

In the summer of 1942, as a Battalion Surgeon with Colonel Schaefer's 500 man special force, we accompanied this first unit to undergo training at the newly established Army Commando Training Center on the south shore of Cape Cod. The installation was so new that we spent the first week clearing brush, digging latrines, building facilities and making the area habitable. Along with a rigorous training program we were supposed to be learning the amphibious techniques of shore to shore landings.

As so often happens in military planning, the initial confusion was great. Landing craft were scarce in those days - and the one or two dozen needed to float our embryonic commandos had to be obtained from four different commands - the Coast Guard, the Navy, the Marines and the Army Engineers. There was inter-service rivalry, and each command seemed reluctant to part with any of its hoarded craft.

Coordination of the boat activities was a continuous nightmare. Then an unexpected medical catastrophe occurred when three hundred of our men turned up one day at sick call with the typical rash of a contact dermatitis. Emergency gallons of calamine lotion were rushed to us from the hospital at nearby Camp Edwards, but for three days all training was disrupted. We soon discovered that the hand to hand combat course had been laid out in a pure stand of poison ivy. Adding to the confusion, and to the frustration of Colonel Schaefer and his itchy, pink-colored commandos, was the fact that the permanent training command staff in charge of the center were not only inexperienced in basic knowledge of infantry tactics, but also unbelievably bumbling and incompetent.

At the halfway mark Colonel Schaefer could stand it no longer. He called a special meeting of all officers, his own and all of the training command group. In his deliberate fashion he enumerated each day by day mistake, each inefficiency, each foul-up, and each indignity that he and his men had had to put up with. At the conclusion of his controlled tirade, he announced with unmistakable authority (he was West Point, and outranked the commander of the school) that henceforth, he was taking over, and would be in charge of all activities.

The last half of our training went off like clockwork. On completing our course we had become adequately amphibious, and, as a final exercise, had subdued the island of Martha's Vineyard in a joint assault with the paratroopers. On graduation we were reviewed by Secretary of War Stimson and a cadre of Pentagon high brass, who were on hand to observe and officially dedicate the new school. They were most impressed.

Many years later Colonel Schaefer told us that the Secretary of War had indeed been so impressed, that, on his return to Washington, he ordered an immediate blanket promotion of one grade for every man of the permanent training school command.

Even now, twenty-one years later, Colonel Schaefer still gets mad when he thinks about it.

(c) Bulletin of the Muscogee County (Georgia) Medical Society, "The Doctor's Lounge", Dec 1963, Vol. X No.12, p.9

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