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Why remember the legacy of General Schomburg?

General August Schomburg

August Schomburg, an unusually accomplished United States General.

By Ashley d’Oliveira

School teachers might consider covering the history and legacy of General Schomburg. Lucky for me, General Schomburg was my great-grandfather. Allow me to take you on this knowledgeable journey from the eyes of a child…

In 1962, my great-grandfather organized the Army Supply and Maintenance Command and had the distinction of being its first commanding general. Prior to his retirement in 1967, he served as Commandant of the Industrial College of the Armed Forces at Fort McNair,.

General August Schomburg, was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal, the Legion of Merit with Oak Leaf Cluster, and the Army Commendation Medal with an Oak Leaf Cluster– all distinguished honors representing outstanding achievements and meritorious service.

Not interested yet? Stay with me. 
My father often shares a story he finds humorous, about the time I told him I wanted to graduate from USMA WestPoint, just like he did. He says my one stipulation was that I “just don’t want to be in the Army.” He chuckles guilelessly in his recollection. I, however, remember this story very differently. “I never said that dad. I wasn’t afraid of the Army; I was afraid of being a girl in the Army.” Every time, he doth protest; and I, in turn, acquiesce.

Because, now that I’ve had almost three additional decades to marvel and wonder at my family military history, I’ve realized the most important take-away from this little discrepancy. And it’s not that I’m a grown woman who must prove I was, indeed, a very brave and tenacious little girl. It is that I WAS a little girl. A little girl who cared so deeply about the bravery and tenacity that gilds her family history; and now, a grown woman, who feels exactly the same.

The Arlington Experience

As my interest in our family history persisted and grew, it became clear to me, at the dawn of the illustrious 8th grade DC trip, that I would need to gain permission to break rank from the school guided tours and go see my Grandaddy’s grave. Arlington National Cemetery was on the list. It was time to put the “face to the name” – time to be that brave and tenacious young girl, once again. (See, dad!)

My pleading and planning felt futile. Faculty was reluctant to agree to the potential vicarious liability of my divergence from the group. Until – a chaperone, who overheard my urgent petitions, stood suddenly from the back of our tour bus, and offered to escort me.

The information desk provided the map, and we set off on foot. It was an odd experience, trekking through such a sacred place. Referencing the map and trudging along, all while being struck with the intense need to be reverent, and slow, and quiet.

So many dead. So many honorifics. I hadn’t yet encountered the marker of my family history, but I was walking through my history none the less. Each a life. Each a soul. Each with a lion heart of bravery and the confidence to make a difference, and yet a humility and altruistic nature that commanded them to ‘serve.’

I don’t know if this is true for everyone; but I have found that, whenever I am searching for a grave, I always stumble upon it in a moment that feels stripped from a dramatic or romantic film. As if the light hits it just right, as if I was just about to turn around, and then – there it was.

Perhaps it is solely the sense of awe and revelation that lends the experience that drama. For, when that name and that resting place is revealed, it is simply…breathtaking. Here lies…mine. My person. And here they are, with me, in this moment. And oh, how “there” he was. Surrounded by headstones, he stood, a memorial of epic proportions. Smooth stone, embellished with those three epic stars, and a view from the hillside that spoke of the glory and honor of General August Schomburg.

 

 

We made it back to the group just in time for the Changing of the Guard, at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. And in that Virginia heat, the silence of the crowd, and the melancholic echo of the bugle’s military “taps”, I found myself in a state of reverie and awe that would continue to bring me to tears for years to come.

And those years did come. Years of incessantly prodding my father for more stories, more details, more photos, more memorabilia. In those years I learned why my dad taught us to make our beds with hospital corners (military corners, I suppose), why my dad wound up at USMA instead of his original plans to attend Annapolis. I learned that my dad held many stories of his Father, Reinaldo (Corky) d’Oliveira, and his Navy days.

I learned that my dad possesses Corky’s naval cap, and General Schomburg’s WestPoint drafting board; both displayed, in loving memory, in our family home today. I learned that my mom’s grandfather, Paul Wimmer, served in the Navy, in aviation. I was enriched, mesmerized, and oh so proud. And though I collected as many stories and notes as was possible throughout those years, I could never have known what still awaited me.

The Jersey Bombshell

In my mid 20’s, on a trip to New York, I spent an evening at a friend’s family home in New Jersey. Her parents were hosting a massive New Year’s fête, and we happily made the trip to join them. That evening, I met a middle-aged man at one of the finely decorated hors-d’oeuvres tables. He had glasses, a receding hair line, and a clear penchant for history and nerdiness.

Of the latter two, we found we were “of a piece.” When our conversation veered into hobbies and interests, I was delighted to find he was interested in military history. Naturally, I waxed eloquent (albeit, humbly) on that personal family military history that had filled me, lifelong, with pride and intrigue.

And then – magic

The conversation had made its way to my Great Grandfather, the 3-Star General buried at Arlington. “General August Schomburg,” I replied to his inquiry. His shock was enough to startle me. His tears left me utterly perplexed. “Your Great Grandfather is August Schomburg? Your Great Grandfather was my boyhood hero.”

On this evening, I learned for the first time, that my Great Grandfather was instrumental in the development of the US Space Program – paving the way and laying the foundation for US space exploration, and leading the charge behind those early advancements in our nation’s history we all remember. That he cut the ribbon at the dedication of the Army Rocket and Guided Missile Agency’s new headquarters, and that he stood at the podium at Redstone Arsenal on the day NASA was “born.

On this evening, I learned my Great Grandfather was an instrumental figure in US History. SMDC History: A New Direction for Space Research

Rest assured, my dad received a very sudden, very adamant phone call – “what the heck, how did you leave all this out?!”

On that evening, and in the years that followed, I learned things about my Great Grandfather that passionately fueled my ever-burning fire for family history.

In Memoriam

It is a phenomenal feeling, to recognize such a distinguished individual as my Great-Grandfather. There is no doubt about it. And yet – while he certainly stands out, he does not stand alone. This is not only apparent from long strolls through a National Cemetery, or visits to War Memorials. We can see it everywhere. From the “my child is in the army” bumper stickers, to the “support our troops” yellow ribbons. From the man in camo at the grocery store, to the tunes of the National Anthem we sing in regularity. There are so many who have made this choice, so that we may have choice ourselves.

Memorial Day – Why? and What for?

Yes, my Great Grandfather did great things. I honor him in sharing his story – in remembering his efforts and dedication to the growth of this country. I “remember” General Schomburg every day. It’s easy for me; he’s fascinating. And I think he’d appreciate that.

I also think he’d want us, especially as we celebrate Memorial Day, to remember “why”, and “what for.” That this is not just his story; it’s all of ours. And he’d be right about that. We honor our service members when we honor the nature of their service.

On this Memorial week, as with all the ones that have passed and the ones to come, we honor and celebrate ‘memory.
Remembering those who have passed, those who are still with us, and those who are serving today. But for so many, understandably so, we celebrate the dawn of summer, a day off work, and the shirking of the tarp that covers that long dormant grill. A cutting of the ribbon. An excitement for the warmer seasons of longer days, lakeside retreats, and a sense of freedom.

So, shall we look to the nuances of what freedom means to us? Is it solely an emotional or physical state of being? Solely a civil and legislative state of being? Or is it both? Are they intrinsically tied?

Are they symbiotic and representative of the fact that, without one, the other feels like a necessity as opposed to a sense of enlightenment and peace?

I think it’s okay that we celebrate Memorial Day, in the way we do. We are human. We are meant to celebrate the outside and the companionship of family and friends. And maybe it’s also okay, that we take a small moment to recognize that in all history, there is people. Us-now, them-then, those-for our future.

Maybe it is okay that we celebrate each other and celebrate where we are. As long as in doing so, we remember that not all of us have these privileges and freedoms. Not all of us share the same history. But we can share the same future.

If only we hold the bravery and tenacity of those who dedicated their lives to this purpose, to this service – so that today, we can celebrate. So that today – even if you say, I “just don’t want to be in the army” (as I so very obviously did NOT say, dad), you can offer a salute to the ones who do serve.

And let us offer a salute to each other, for we ALL can and do serve, in some way. In every job, in every gesture, in every opportunity – if we take it. In every dedication to betterment, in every faith in each other’s greatness, and in every belief for what we can achieve.

And perhaps on Memorial Day we can choose to also remember, that if we recognize our daily efforts for what they are – service to one another – perhaps we will be doing the greatest service to those who fought. Those who fought to give us the chance to be unified. To honor them, by showing them, we will do just that.

Remember our history. Its triumphs, and its pitfalls. Its glory and its tragedies. Remember each other. For from both, we learn. For from both, we memorialize the past, and continue the fight for a better future.

I think that’s what Grandaddy Schomburg would probably say.

I think that’s what those military ‘taps’ tell us – if they had the official lyrics – in the way only the universal language of music can.

“Remember us. But remember why. We did not fight for fighting. We fought for future. We fought for progress. We fought for peace.”

General August Schomburg

General August Schomburg graduated from the United States Military Academy (WestPoint) in 1931, with a degree in Military Science. In 1937, he received a Master of Science degree in Mechanical Engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and in 1953, was a graduate of the Industrial College of the Armed Forces at Fort McNair.

In the early 40’s, General Schomburg was the Commanding officer of an Ordnance Proving Center Winter Detachment in Canada. He tested the effects of severe weather conditions on military equipment, munitions, instruments, and vehicles. The rewards of his efforts were vast during the winter months of WWII, and he is honored for his outstanding contributions to the field of ordnance engineering.

Additionally, General Schomburg was named Director of Research, Development and Engineering at Watertown Arsenal, Chief of the Procurement Branch for the US Army in Europe, and appointed Chief of the Research and Development Division office and Chief of Ordnance.  General August Schomburg – Wikipedia

Still – amongst the extensive list of his military ranks, roles, and accomplishments –there lies a particular history that was the catalyst for my unexpected New Jersey education:

General Schomburg commanded the US Army Ordnance Missile Command at Redstone Arsenal and worked with Dr. Wernher von Braun in the development of the Nike-Zeus and Hercules class missile systems. He was in direct charge of the Nike-Zeus anti-ballistic missile, and the Pershing field ballistic missile.

Their contributions during this period laid the foundations for US space exploration –launching the first successful American lunar probe, the first permanent-orbit US satellite, the development of the thrust engine that became the moon rocket, and recovering the first living beings (monkeys, Able and Baker) from a flight into outerspace.  The History of Redstone Arsenal – YouTube

Their role in paving the way for the US space program is an astonishing legacy

General Schomburg orchestrated and negotiated the transfer of the Army’s space program to the National Aeronautics and Space Agency (NASA); and, on a historic July day in 1960, assisted with the official transfer of authority of the Army Ballistic Missile Agency (ABMA) to the NASA George C. Marshall Space Flight Center.  Army Launched Nasa

There is a journal entry, of sorts, from T. Keith Glennan (NASA’s first Administrator), that
speaks of a lunch with General Schomburg. He writes: “We arrived at Huntsville at 11:00 o’clock their time and were met by von Braun. A briefing to the group detailed the progress on Saturn, and then we had lunch with General Schomburg. I had invited him to speak to the group if he desired, and he certainly made use of the opportunity. He told a very engaging story about the Nike-Zeus system. He had the group eating out of his hands…”

I’m moved by this depiction of my Great-Grandfather. It reminds me of my father, and of myself. Given the chance, we will have “certainly made use” of the opportunity to speak.

General Schomburg was inducted into the Ordnance Corps Hall of Fame in 1985.

By Ashley d’Oliveira

 

Ashley d’Oliveira is the great-granddaughter of the late Lieutenant General August Schomburg of the U.S. Army. The daughter of Linda Dillon, Hancock Clarion Special Projects Manager/Editor and Mark d’Oliveira, Verizon Global Solutions Executive (both of HCHS).  The granddaughter of Donn Wimmer. publisher of the Hancock Clarion and the late Juanita Wimmer of Hancock County.  Granddaughter of the late Reinaldo (Corky) d’Oliveira, former Plant Manager, Southwire Rod & Cable Division in Hawesville, and great-granddaughter of the late Paul Wimmer, architect/engineer and founder of Vastwood Park.

 

Links:

The Redstone Rocket: ARGMA Opens with a Blast

SMDC History: A New Direction for Space Research

General August Schomburg – Wikipedia

The History of Redstone Arsenal – YouTube

Army Launched Nasa

Ordnance Corps Hall of Fame

2 Comments

  1. Augusta Schomburg Gruver on January 1, 2024 at 7:10 pm

    i am his daughter.

    • Linda on January 2, 2024 at 10:23 am

      Good morning Augusta! What a wonderful surprise! I hope you are pleased with the article Ashley wrote.

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