Courage under fire

Former KCK parishioner made a chevalier of the French Legion of Honor for his service in World War I


by Joe Bollig
joe.bollig@theleaven.org

KANSAS CITY, Kan. — A young Pvt. Raymond A. Schrader saw a lot of war in two short years.

He saved his ship by spotting a Uboat while crossing the Atlantic, and he landed in Normandy on D-Day Plus 2.

He fought through the deadly Normandy hedgerows during the St. Lo Breakout, battled his way across France, and walked 230 miles through the freezing cold in time for the Battle of the Bulge.

Finally, he fought battle-hardened German troops in their own homeland, helping to extinguish Nazi tyranny once and for all.

Schrader, a scout, messenger and infantryman in the 137th Infantry Regiment of the 35th Infantry Division, U.S. Army, was also a member of the former St. Casimir Parish in Kansas City, Kan. He joined the Kansas National Guard in September 1939. With only two weeks to go on his enlistment, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, and America was plunged into war. Schrader was in for the duration.

Like millions of other Americans, the 25-year-old Schrader then returned home from the war to build a family and live his civilian life in relative obscurity, his medals and citations gathering dust in a closet.

But for a brief moment last month, a spotlight dispelled that obscurity when on Sept. 21 the 90-year-old Schrader received a singular honor. He was made a chevalier, or knight, of the French Legion of Honor. The ceremony took place at the Kansas National Guard Armory in Kansas City, Kan.

Family, friends, elected officials and members of the military were present to witness the ceremony.

The honor came 64 years to the day that Schrader boarded a troop ship in Belgium for the voyage back to the United States.

It’s not very often that an American receives the Legion of Honor, “the highest honor that France can bestow upon those who have achieved remarkable deeds for France,” according to JeanBaptiste de Boissiere, Chicago-based consul general of France.

It was his daughter, Sister Barbara Schrader, SCL, who began the process that led to Raymond Schrader being awarded the French medal.

Two years ago, the elder Schrader suffered the sudden onset of Lewy body dementia. In a single month, he went from being relatively healthy to needing care. Now, he resides in Riverside Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Riverside, Mo.

While calling around to identify benefits her father might be eligible for, Sister Barbara was told by a sergeant at Fort Leavenworth that her father also might qualify for the French honor. So she contacted the French consulate in Chicago, and also received help from U.S. Rep. Dennis Moore, D-Kan.

The ceremony itself attracted soldiers old and new and a host of dignitaries including: Moore, who acted as master of ceremonies; Brig. Gen. Alex Duckworth, deputy commander of the 35th Infantry Division; and retired Maj. Gen. Jack Strukel Jr., former commander of the 69th Infantry Brigade, Kansas.

Col. Jean-Claude Brejot, French liaison officer at the Combined Arms Center at Fort Leavenworth, represented his nation and pinned the medal on Schrader.

The colonel noted that Schrader helped liberate many French cities, including Orleans, Sens, Nancy, Chambry and Sarreguemines.

“Thanks to your courage, to our American friends and allies, France has been living in peace for the past six decades,” said Brejot, after he pinned the medal on Schrader. “You saved us and we will never forget.

“I want you to know that for us, the French people, you are a hero. Gratitude and remembrance are forever in our souls.”

The medal was not Schrader’s first, however. Sixty-four years earlier, he received the American Defense Service Ribbon, the Good Conduct Medal, the Combat Infantry Badge and the Bronze Star Medal.

The Bronze Star was awarded for his heroics during the battle for Ostenberg, Germany, where he captured more than 80 German soldiers and helped knock out two tanks and machine gun nests.

“The National Guard’s motto is: ‘Always ready, always there,’” said Sister Barbara in her remarks. “That has been true of my dad.”

While in France, her father stayed once in a castle once used by Joan of Arc, near Compiegen, she said; perhaps the saint protected him. She also honored his non-combat service, even restricted as it has been by recent health problems.

“Even in this, my dad continues to provide every loving service in his power to be faithful to his God, to guard his family, and to continue his allegiance to his country,” said Sister Barbara.

Raymond Schrader also received the prestigious Division Commander’s Coin of Excellence of the 35th Infantry Division Association from Duckworth and a commemorative coin and membership in the 35th Infantry Division from Strukel.

A reception in his honor was held after the ceremony.

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