Gary Schemel in 1964

Gary Schemel 1964When I photographed a casual Gary Schemel, right, chatting casually with a friend in the cafeteria in 1964 there was no way of knowing that he would be the first Central High School student to die in Vietnam.

When this picture was taken, the all-conference athlete, described by a teammate as “tough as steel” would have just about a year to live. He was born January 4, 1946, and died in Quang Tin Province September 26, 1965.

It’s worth going back to an earlier post I did about Gary to read the many comments from his friends, teammates and classmates. Robert Taylor, also in the Class of 1964, was killed in Dinh Tuong Province March 8, 1968.

Flags Coming Down

I promised myself that I wasn’t going to do another North County Park flag picture, even if it was the Fourth of July.

Then, on my way back from Perry County at the tailend of the afternoon, I saw the flags were coming down. I knew, of course, that somebody had to put them up at dawn and taken them down before dusk, but knowing something isn’t the same as seeing it.

Controlled chaos: no conking

Volunteer Jerry Hampton said most of the work was being done by VFW Post 3838, members of Boy Scout Troop 5 and folks from the Delta 1st Baptist Church. If I missed anyone, I apologize.

The workers acted in controlled chaos. Despite flag poles whirling and spinning all around, I didn’t see anyone conked or speared. They teamed up to handle the flags respectfully and to make sure they never touched the ground.

These flags are special

Those of us who visit the parks and appreciate the beauty of the flags flowing in the wind need to keep some things in mindL

  • Volunteers work hard when it’s cold and when it’s hot to put the flags up and to take them down.
  • Families donate the flags to honor their relatives who were in the service.
  • Each flag once covered the casket of someone who served to protect our freedoms.

Other stories about the display

Flag display gallery

Click on any photo to see a larger photo of these hard-working volunteers, then click on the left or right side of the image to move through the gallery.

Cpl. Robert Taylor 1947-1968

When I wrote about ’64 classmate Gary Schemel being killed in Vietnam, Bill East quickly pointed out that the Class of 1964 had also lost Bobby Taylor in the war.

Sondra Cook chimed in, “Both Gary and Bobby were great guys. Bobby went to Washington Elem. and was a one semester behind me until the infamous Cape summer school when the “B” classes made up the semester of work. Gary moved to Cape when we were in Jr. High. My eyes still tear every time I go to the Vietnam Memorial or see the Visiting Wall and find their names.”

Bob’s name on Freedom Corner

A plaque on a pillar in Capaha Park’s Freedom Corner lists some of Cape Girardeau’s Vietnam casualties. There was some discussion here about other Cape names.

Larry Saddler: “[Gary] was a great guy. I lived within blocks of both Gary and Bob Taylor (also a great guy). Looking back I think they both died for absolutely nothing. I’m a big flag waver, but I think we wasted many lives with that war and I wonder if in the future many supporters will think we are wasting lives in our current conflicts. I think of Gary, Bob, and also Earl Tharp often, wondering what their lives cold have been if they had lived. I’m also thankful they were willing to serve. God bless them all.

[A Missourian story reported Earl Tharp, the 20-year-old son of a Cape Girardeau minister, was killed in June 1970 when enemy mortal fire hit his base camp in Vietnam.]

Burt Lehman: “I remember them both. Bob Taylor was like an older brother. We had great times together. I served in Vietnam and I am proud of my service to my country. The war was won after Tet of 1968, but somehow turned into defeat by media and politics. Gave the NVA and Viet Cong just enough encouragement to carry on the war. We were ultimately fighting “for” each other so I don’t believe that any of us died in vain. We still embrace as brothers no matter what our politics are. I have the greatest respect for Gary and Bob for the sacrifice they made.”

 First flag for Parade of Flags

A Missourian Out of the Past column about a 1987 story said “Early response has been good for a Parade of Flags that will be on display near the war memorial in Cape County Park on Memorial Day, Independence Day and Veterans Day; the first burial flag turned in as part of the display honored Robert L. Taylor Jr., who was killed in the Vietnam War.

Bob’s brother, Tom, honored his memory

Tom Taylor posted a tribute to his brother on his Facebook page. I asked for permission to reprint the photos and some of Tom’s remarks. Most of these were downloaded from Facebook. Here’s Bob as a Troop 15 Eagle Scout in 1963.

Bob as SEMO student

Tom said that Bob attended Southeast Missouri State College in 1966-67.

Worked as a lineman

Bob’s deep tan was a result of his work as a lineman the summer before he joined the military, Tom said. The picture was taken at his home, probably in 1966.

Bob Taylor in Vietnam

From Tom: Bobby (far right) with his squadmates in Vietnam; probably the last photo of him before his death.

In the 1986 movie  “Platoon,” actor Willam Dafoe played Sgt. Elias and actor Tom Berenger played the scar-faced Sgt. Barnes. Elias treated his men with respect, and took new soldiers under his wing, teaching them how to stay alive. Barnes treated his men with contempt, putting the newest soldiers out front like cannon fodder.

From all accounts, Bobby was like Elias. He always took new soldiers under his wing and taught them how to survive.

Virtual Wall profile

Here is the Bob’s profile on the Virtual Wall. It’s an incredible resource. [The following information is Copyright 1997-2012 www.VirtualWall.org, Ltd.]

PERSONAL DATA: Home of Record: Cape Girardeau, MO; Date of birth: 03/10/1947

MILITARY DATA: Service: Army of the United States; Grade at loss: E3; Rank: Corporal; Note: Posthumous Promotion as indicated; ID No: 56586679; MOS: 11B10: Infantryman; Unit: C CO, 3RD BN, 60TH INFANTRY, 9TH INF DIV, USARV

CASUALTY DATA: Start Tour: 10/31/1967; Incident Date: 03/08/1968; Casualty Date: 03/08/1968; Age at Loss: 20; Location: Dinh Tuong Province, South Vietnam; Remains: Body recovered; Casualty Type: Hostile, died outright; Casualty Reason: Ground casualty; Casualty Detail: Gun or small arms fire

ON THE WALL: Panel 43E Line 062

Bob was awarded the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star. His citation says, in part, “Through his untiring efforts and professional ability, he consistently obtained outstanding results. He was quick to grasp the implications of new problems with which he faced as a result of the ever changing situations inherent in a counterinsurgency operation and to find ways and means to solve those problems. The energetic application of his extensive knowledge has materially contributed to the efforts of the United States mission to the Republic of Vietnam to assist that country in ridding itself of the Communist threat to its freedom.

“His initiative, zeal, sound judgement and devotion to duty have been in the highest tradition of the Unite States Army and reflect great credit on him and the military service.”