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‘The Greatest Generation’

97-year-old Navy veteran, Butte Falls native receives medallion for service in WWII
Jamie Lusch / Mail TribuneRoy Schnurr is presented with a cake and a “Greatest Generation” gold medallion in recognition of his service during World War II on Tuesday at his 97th birthday party.
Jamie Lusch / Mail TribuneA gold medallion for “ The Greatest Generation”” was presented to Roy Schnurr.

His Medford home filled with family, 97-year-old Navy veteran Roy Schnurr got up out of his chair and stood as he was presented with a gift: a gold medallion proclaiming him a member of “The Greatest Generation” for his service during World War II.

It was one of the 50 handed out to veterans or their widows this year by the Rogue Chapter No. 1260 of the Non-Commissioned Officers Association.

“Oh, beautiful,” Schnurr said, as Terry Haines, chairman of the local NCOA chapter, placed it on him.

On one side, the medallion contains the term “The Greatest Generation” along with the words “Valor,” “Sacrifice” and “Fidelity.” An image of an eagle in front of the world is also shown.

On the other side is the image of an eagle with the flags of the U.S. and the NCOA, along with a banner containing the words “World War II: Honor and Remembrance.”

Upon receiving the medallion, Schnurr received a round of applause from family, who told him they loved him and thanked him for his service.

That was before a large cake, with the word “Hero” clearly visible, was brought out for the honorable WWII vet. He had a piece, but not before engaging in some finger-licking of frosting.

Getting into war

Schnurr is a lifelong resident of the Rogue Valley, born Aug. 30, 1924, in Butte Falls.

In 1941, he and two other men from his hometown enlisted in the Navy. Schnurr, then 17, had to get his mother's signature to make that possible for him.

On that fateful day of Dec. 7, Schnurr and his newly minted Navy buddies went to a dance in Eagle Point.

“Before the dance was over, the war had started,” he said. “I had no idea who Pearl Harbor was — I thought it was some old gal.”

At basic training in Philadelphia, Schnurr got scarlet fever, delaying his deployment.

Military career in the Pacific

He may have still been sick, but Schnurr flew to his new assignment: Pearl Harbor, where he worked on a small ship designed to remove mines. He recalls seeing the Arizona, a major battleship destroyed in the Japanese attack.

“Everything was shot up and terrible,” Schnurr said. “You don’t feel good about it.”

He was later assigned to a tugboat at the Hawaiian Naval base for several years, but left for the mainland on 15-day delayed orders back to Philadelphia.

“I got foolish and got married during those 15 days,” said Schnurr, who wed in the summer of 1944.

After some more time on the East Coast, the newly wed Navy man was ordered back out to the Pacific, where he served on a ship off the coast of Okinawa, Japan.

“I never went ashore,” Schnurr said. “They’d go ashore, fighting. Some made it, some didn’t.”

Those that didn’t were the ones he vividly remembers burying at sea — their bodies wrapped in an American flag. Schnurr recalls numbness coming over him.

Another time on his vessel in Okinawa, Schnurr witnessed a torpedo attack in Buckner Bay.

“I could hear them screaming,” he said. “The first morning we went in there, there were bodies floating in the water.”

‘Greatest Generation’ medal

Terry Haines, the NCOA chairman who presented Schnurr with the medallion, talked with the Mail Tribune about the significance of giving out this unique item to World War II veterans.

“Based on their age, it’s a race against time,” he said.

For those medals he has been able to award, Haines admits it’s been “a labor of love.”

“(In terms of) presenting them and explaining to those present the significance of what ‘The Greatest Generation’ meant not only then, but what it meant to our society from the time they came back,” Haines said. “They went off to war, fought and won, and came home and went back to work. They rebuilt this country and they didn’t look for fanfare — they just did their job and raised their families.”

The Rogue Chapter No. 1260 of NCOA did not always give out the “Greatest Generation” medal — in fact, that used to be the job of the national organization in Washington, D.C., according to Haines.

But when the organization changed hands they went “out of sight, out of mind,” he said. That was true until he was contacted a few years ago by NCOA representatives, who said the medals were in storage and asked if Haines would like to have them.

“We were aware that they were there, but at the time, it just wasn’t an issue that we could really deal with — we didn’t have a great deal of money,” Haines said. “Finally, we were able to work something out and we got a bunch of these medallions shipped.”

He noted that he has personally paid for some of the medals because he believes “so strongly” they need to be awarded.

“The world needs to know about our World War II vets while they’re still here,” Haines said.

Reflections on service

Valley resident Patty Casey said she was proud to see her stepfather — a longtime truck driver — receive the NCOA medallion.

“He is a 97-year-old man, and even though WWII is so far off, I think ... those (wartime) experiences are lifetime experiences,” she said. “Those memories, no matter how old they get, they’re still just so present.”

Casey believes Schnurr’s experiences during the war helped “guide him in terms of right and wrong and the importance of family.”

“War can break you or it can make you a better person, and I think with Roy, it definitely made him a better person,” she said.

Reach reporter Kevin Opsahl at 541-776-4476 or kopsahl@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @KevJourno.