May 22, 2006
Howard Lake veteran among those remembered in book
By Dave Cox
The late Wallace (Skip) Schmidt of Howard Lake was among a group of young men whose lives changed forever when they were sworn in to the Marine Corps during a pregame ceremony at a Minnesota Twins Game June 28, 1967.
The 150 recruits became known as “The Twins Platoon,” and Christy Sauro Jr. of Forest Lake has provided an inside look at their story in his book, “The Twins Platoon,” released in March.
Sauro was one of the Marines who was sworn in that day.
The book is the result of 16 years of research and interviews with the Marines and their families.
The young men were cheered off the field that day in 1967, but the games were over for them before the last pitch was thrown.
They were bussed from Metropolitan Stadium to the airport, and were soon on their way to boot camp in San Diego, California.
In the book, Sauro provides a view of the lives of some of these young men leading up to their enlistment, and weaves together a story that follows them through boot camp to the battlefields of Vietnam, to the alienation and resentment the survivors experienced when they came home.
Sauro, who has worked as an insurance agent since leaving the Marines, said that he originally thought about writing a book about the platoon in 1984. At that time, he had very little knowledge of what had become of the other members of the platoon. He decided that researching and writing a book about the platoon would be too large an undertaking, and dismissed the idea.
Over the next several years, Sauro continued to wonder what had happened to the other Marines from the Twins Platoon.
In 1990, he began to put together a written account of their experiences.
Wallace Schmidt was the son of the late Eugene Schmidt, and his first wife, Monica Schmidt of Howard Lake. According to Sauro, Wallace Schmidt knew that his father would approve of his decision to enlist, because he had served as a Marine during World War II
Sauro described Schmidt as highly motivated. Schmidt, a high school dropout, was concerned about passing the written tests, so during boot camp, while the other recruits slept, he stayed up late studying.
Like many members of the Twins Platoon, Schmidt distinguished himself in combat in Vietnam.
The book describes how, upon their return from Vietnam, some Marines faced an adversary that in some cases proved to be as dangerous as the North Vietnamese Army.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) was an illness that was not yet recognized by the medical community or the Veteran’s Administration in 1972, according to Sauro.
If the illness had been recognized, “Skip would have been a textbook example of someone suffering from the disorder,” Sauro wrote.
Schmidt made it back from Vietnam, but his battle was not over. His fight with PTSD was one that he did not win.
During Sauro’s research for the book, he contacted many members of the Twins Platoon and their families.
Some of these people got together for a special remembrance ceremony for Schmidt June 22, 1997. Some of the surviving members of the unit Schmidt served with in Vietnam also attended the ceremony.
Feb. 8, 1998, a second ceremony for Schmidt took place in the rotunda of the state capitol. During the ceremony, Schmidt was posthumously awarded the prestigious Silver Star for his heroic actions at Lam Xuam March 12, 1968. More than 100 people attended the ceremony, according to Sauro.
In the book, Sauro, through his extensive research, was able to put together a picture of what members of the Twins Platoon went through.
He offers his readers an opportunity to understand what these and other Marines and their families experienced by providing some intensely personal glimpses into their lives.
Sauro describes the dedication and the patriotism of young men who enlisted in the Marines, knowing that they would be sent to Vietnam.
He paints a picture of the changes they experienced, leaving Midwest and being thrust into the harsh environment of boot camp, and the infinitely harsher environment of combat in Vietnam.
Through it all, the loyalty and the relationships that were forged under intense circumstances survived.
Sauro has captured the innocence and the awakening of these men. He captured their horror at seeing friends all around them dying horrible deaths.
He has captured the feelings of guilt of the survivors as they tried to come to grips with why they survived and their comrades did not.
And, he has captured the alienation felt by these soldiers who returned home to ridicule and resentment, leading them to wonder what they had been fighting for, and what their friends died for.
The book is not only about the Marines.
Readers will get a sense of the days and weeks of worry that parents went through as they watched the reports of the war on the nightly news, and wondered if their sons were among the casualties.
The concern of young people who wondered daily if they would see their brothers or cousins or boyfriends again comes through in the pages of the book.
The ultimate pain of seeing two Marines come to the door to deliver the message that another soldier will not be coming home is also in the book.
Sauro said the book took on a life of its own. He spent thousands of hours researching, writing, and conducting interviews.
He said when he began the project, he knew very little about the fates of other members of the platoon, or how the experience of these soldiers fit into the larger picture, but he was inspired to take on the challenge of gathering the information and piecing it together.
Sauro said his family lived with the book during the 16 years he worked on it, and it became part of their lives. The value of the book may be revealed by a high school paper written by his youngest daughter, Sharon, when she was 15.
“So I have lived my life hearing about Vietnam. I have talked to and seen what an impact his book had on families of the ones he wrote about. The book brought closure to a part of their lives they did not know about. From a terrible war, I have seen good come out of it,” Sharon wrote.
To Sauro, it was worth it. “It has been a very rewarding experience,” he said.