Herald Journal Columns
May 20, 2002
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Stories about naughty, nice people ­ which one was the most important?


A few months ago, some elementary students from Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted asked me what was the most important story I ever wrote.

Kids have a way of setting the spotlight on you, and I sat there with my mouth open for a few seconds, trying to think of what that could be.

I've written about a million things. You name it.

On the naughty side, I've written about a murder (first one ever in Deuel County, So. Dak.), arson fires, underage drinking offenses, stolen cars, an auctioneer who cheated almost $1 million from his clients, and a district attorney who grew marijuana and smoked pot (honest ­ he even labeled the side of his plant flats "OK'd by the county attorney" (himself).

When the time came for the arrests, the clerk complained that the "evidence" stunk, since it was seized and she had to babysit and water the plants for several weeks!). Most of this was in South Dakota, since the good people of this area are not as wild here. I think.

On the nice side, I've written gallons of ink about people who gave the most precious commodity ­ the gift of time ­ to others, selflessly and without reservation.

I've written about little old ladies playing cards, volunteers working, walking, talking, making crafts and doing small things to improve other people's lives.

I've written about a zillion different hobbies.

I've written things that made me very sad, mostly when it affected children.

Survivors, winners, royalty, and the average kid walking down the road. Children and babies enjoying a day in the sun.

What could be the most important thing I wrote? Do you know what I told those kids?

I said it was a story about a South Dakota veteran named Harry Schulte.

Take a picture of this: a tall, white haired fellow ­ the very definition of an elderly gentleman ­ walking straight and purposeful. He is not proud, but a humble, respectful person. He absolutely adores his wife and is a devout Christian.

He was also an Army machine gunner during World War II.

"I can't imagine you shooting a fly," I said to him during the interview. I knew Harry personally, and the idea of him shooting anything was unbelievable. He just laughed a little bit.

Harry was involved in several campaigns, including Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands in the South Pacific, the very first offensive by the U.S. military in the war. Until then, the Army was engaged in defensive actions, taking hits.

He didn't take his socks or shoes off for 27 days, the fighting was so intense.

He was part of the "dime a dozen" club, where he would go behind enemy lines and capture or kill 12 Japanese soldiers for 10 cents.

During the war, he tore a dollar bill in half and gave it to an Army friend ­ making a pact that they would live to see each other, and spend the dollar, after the war was over.

Indeed, they did this, although they bought each other dinner with their wives at their sides, instead of spending the dollar.

The dollar that he kept in his pocket during the war is kept at his home now.

It makes me wonder about what would have happened if Harry got cold feet and left his post.

Sure, he's only one guy. But everything affects everything.

If Harry lost his nerve (which he didn't) but IF he did ­ what if others saw his lack of courage and lost heart? What if the loss of one area of the offensive caused a chain reaction to actually turn the tide?

A saying from Margaret Mead is that "one person can change the world ­ in fact, it's the only thing that ever has." This goes both ways.

Would it change the outcome? Perhaps.

To me, this is the legacy of Harry Schulte:

· the endorsement he made of our children and future. His willingness to set aside his own safety and life for the long range welfare of our nation.

· his courage to stick by his post and override his natural sense of fear.

· his discipline to follow the orders he must.

· his moral conviction and faith in God.

· the timeless example he set for all of us.

Now, that's better than any modern-day hero to me.

What more could you ask for in a story, but a lesson in strength, courage, and discipline?

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