SERVING OUR VETERANS: Gabe Scheet—almost a ‘Last Man Standing’
According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs statistics, we are losing 372 WWII veterans a day. In 2016, only 620,000 were still alive of the 16 million Americans who served in WWII. We were again reminded of this with the recent passing of President George H. Bush, a WWII veteran, war hero, and the last of our WWII Presidents.
In Pierce County, we have only two to three WWII veterans yet alive. Gabe Scheet is one of the last of the WWII “Last Man Standing Club” at our American Legion. I recently had the privilege of sitting down with Gabe and talking with him about his military experience. Although small in stature, his clear and resonant voice, and remarkable memory, belies the fact that he is 91 years old.
Gabriel Elmer Scheet, one of 10 children, was born in Nekoma, ND on July 17, 1927. His family moved to a farm near Silva, ND in 1929, and then into Balta four years later when his father accepted a position as a state highway maintenance worker. Gabe graduated from Balta High School in 1944. He moved to Rugby in 1945 and worked with his father as a Highway 3 maintenance worker. When Gabe turned 18, he received his draft notice. But, not wanting to be drafted, he immediately reported to the draft board that he wanted to volunteer. They agreed to his request and Gabe was inducted into the U.S. Army at Fort Snelling in January 1946. He then travelled west, by train, to Fort Lewis, Washington for basic training. After completing basic training, he was sent again by train all the way east to Vint Hill Farms Radio Station near Warrenton, Virginia. Here he was assigned as a radioman after receiving extensive training in counter intelligence. To get accepted into this position required an extensive background check in order to obtain the high level of security clearance required. Because of this, and the demanding knowledge of the work, many of the soldiers who started the training failed to be accepted into this duty position. Radiomen, like Gabe, had to be extremely careful of what information they shared. Those in his work unit even thought their barracks was bugged so higher officials could check on seeing what they were doing and discussing. Gabe could not even tell his family anything in regard to his military assignment. Because of this, and the background check being made, including some with local Rugby people, his family, friends, and priest thought he must have gotten into some type of trouble. Gabe still chuckles about this. Gabe’s job was to basically take, by Morse code, all traffic that came across the air waves. How it was handled depended on whether the information came in clear text, classified, or secret and top-secret code. The radioman position required working three days from 7:00 am to 4:00 pm, followed by three days from 4:00 pm to 11:oo pm and then again three days from 11:00 pm to 7:00 am. Following these nine days of being on-duty, they would then get three days off.
On his off days, Gabe and his buddies would often enjoy sightseeing all the sights in and around Washington, D.C. One day, Gabe and his buddy stopped just outside the main gate in front of the White House. To their surprise, they recognized President Harry Truman on the front lawn. President Truman was walking his little black dog, on a leash, and waved at them. He then walked over near the main gate and briefly spoke to Gabe and his friend. He asked them how they liked the Army. Gabe’s response was “It is ok, but the food isn’t very good.” Today, Gabe still laughs about this as he isn’t sure he should have said something like that to the President of the United States.
In April, 1947, Gabe was honorably discharged from the Army. He returned to Rugby and worked in the grocery business for a couple of years. He then moved on to working for a furniture dealer who got him started in the carpet and flooring trade. Gabe then went out on his own and was self-employed in this trade for 56 years, finally retiring at age 85, stating he loved the work the entire time. Gabe has also been involved in his church, the American Legion, and his community all these years. He served as a fireman for many years and was recently inducted into the North Dakota Fireman’s Hall of Fame.
As a side-note, Gabe had five younger brothers who all also served in the military, which is rather remarkable and a testimony of his family’s devotion and patriotism for our country. Two of his brothers, Ray and Dan, served in the Army in Korea. Dan went on to serve a total of 22-1/2 years including three tours in Vietnam. His brothers, Al and Fran, served in the Navy. Fran made it a career and served 30 years. Gabe’s youngest brother, Dennis, served in the Army.
As Gabe shared his experiences with me, it was obvious that 72 years later, he is still proud of the service time he gave to our country, and he should be. He often stated, “the war had ended by the time I went in.” But, this did not deter him from feeling good about what he had done. We should remember that throughout our history, there have been thousands of soldiers just like Gabe. During periods of war or peace, they stepped forward, raised their right hand, and took an oath to protect and defend our land, and that is just what they have done, and continue to do so today. Very few of them have their names and heroic deeds recorded in our history books, like President Bush. But, their contribution to our freedom should never be considered insignificant.
So, if you get an opportunity, please take time to thank Gabe for his service to our country. I feel privileged that he would take the time to share his story with me. Thank you, Gabe, for serving your country, your family, your church, and this community. You are not only one of our last WWII Last Man Standing members, but another wonderful example of what it means to be part of the “Greatest Generation.”
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