Gary Schemel: Casualty of Vietnam War

A Facebook friend my age said she had been showing her teenage son her old yearbook. “As we went through it I had to say at several photos ‘this one is dead.’ It was sobering to us both to see those young faces and know that some of them are gone now, some for a long time. But then I remembered his yearbook had two in memory pages. Some die so young and never have a chance at life.”

Gary Schemel 1946 – 1965

While looking for something else, I ran onto an obituary photo of Pfc. Gary Leroy Schemel, who was No. 22 in the photo above of the 1963-64 Conference Basketball Champions.

I remembered that Gary had gone into the service right out of school, and I vaguely remembered that he was one of the first of our classmates to die in Vietnam, but I didn’t know any details.

The Oct. 8, 1965, Missourian story was equally vague. It just gave the date of the funeral and that military rites would be conducted at St. Mary’s Cemetery.

Gary’s name is on Freedom Corner

All of a sudden, it seemed like I was running into Gary’s name all over the place.

When I photographed Cape Girardeau’s Freedom Corner honoring the war dead from World War I onward, I noticed his name.

When Terry Kitchen was telling the story about ghosts at Central High school, he pulled out some of the yellowing championship team photos  he had salvaged from the dumpster, Gary was in two of them: the Conference Basketball Champs above and on the 1964 Conference Track Champions.

1964 Track Champ

Gary is the fourth from the left in the top row.

I couldn’t find anything in the Google News Archives of The Missourian about Gary, but that’s probably because of errors in the index.

Schemel profile on

I did find this profile at The Virtual Wall:

Gary Leroy Schemel

Private First Class


Home of Record: Cape Girardeau, MO

Date of birth: 01/04/1946


Service: United States Marine Corps

Grade at loss: E2

Rank: Private First Class

MOS: 3500: Basic Motor Transport Man

Length Service: 01



Start Tour: ——

Incident Date: 09/26/1965

Casualty Date: 09/26/1965

Age at Loss: 19

Location: Quang Tin Province, South Vietnam

Remains: Body recovered

Casualty Type: Non-hostile, died of other causes

Casualty Reason: Ground casualty

Casualty Detail: Drowned or suffocated

ON THE WALL Panel 02E Line 095


Remembrances on The Wall

The Virtual Wall says that two remembrances have been left on The Wall for Gary:

  • From his niece, Ramona Hobbs: Gary Leroy Shemel was the second oldest of six children, Barbra, Daniel, Donna, Joyce and Randy. He was also survived by his mother Anna. His father passed away from cancer when Gary was a child.
  • A 1932 poem by Mary Frye posted by Bob Ross, a fellow Vietnam veteran:

Do not stand at my grave and weep.

I am not there; I do not sleep.

I am a thousand winds that blow,

I am the diamond glints on snow,

I am the sun on ripened grain,

I am the gentle autumn rain.

When you awaken in the morning’s hush

I am the swift uplifting rush

Of quiet birds in circled flight.

I am the soft stars that shine at night.

Do not stand at my grave and cry,

I am not there; I did not die.


32 Replies to “Gary Schemel: Casualty of Vietnam War”

  1. Well, the story we got from the coaches was that Gary fell off while doing a river crossing and drowned…short to the point without any details. He was one great athlete and a nice guy never picked on the under classmen and was strong as bull.
    In those ancient days underclassmen did not buddy around with all conference football players, we all just admired there from afar. Gary was one of the good guys.
    He is on the “The Wall”, I went to see him this summer.

  2. Cape should be proud of Gary Schemel,he did not shirk from the service of his country. i only wish i could have known Gary and the many others that served and did not come home.

  3. 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.

    Earl Tharp Jr. who graduated from Central High also died in Vietnam. I think he may have graduated in ’66 or later. He was our pastor’s son.

    Thanks Ken for the links to the Virtual Wall.

  4. AlthoughI I spent 21years as a Naval Reservist, I can’t help but wonder how much better off, richer and more prosperous our nation would be without having a military presence in over 300 foreign countries.what a waste in resources, human and physical, our foreign policy has proven to be! And our elected officials to this day, refuse to gain ANY lessons learned from their past mistakes!what a waste EmpireBuilding is!

  5. My first thought when I saw the team photo was for Gary. Then I noticed that the team was all white. Were some CHS sports integrated and others not? My first experience with a young person’s death was when Marsha Hitt died when we were entering high school–she was a mature class act when the rest of us where still snarky teenagers.

    1. Jane,

      So far as I know, all of the CHS teams were open to everybody. Well, let me qualify that: none of the coaches were exactly clamoring for ME to participate, but I don’t think there was a racial component in that.

      As I recall, even the tennis team was integrated.

      Someone else may have a different perspective, though.

  6. As a Senior in 1962, I remember Gary and Bob quite well. Both were good guys. I played with Gary, a great athlete, on the football team where he was a guard and I was an end. I have found them on the Memorial in Washington and I look for them everytime the traveling wall comes thru Saint Charles County.

    As far as any racial issues on Central Teams, I never saw it or heard of it. I am proud of all of my Central teammates. My Senior year Paul Banks and I competed for the starting fullback position on the football team. He won that position and I was moved to end.
    Paul won that position, not because he was black and I was white or vice-a-versa but because he was better at that position at that time. If Central coaches of that era made any errors in judgement, it was not by race in who they cut, kept or allowed to play on the Central teams.
    I visited with Paul at the recent all-60s reunion. It was good to see him. He said his knees were bothering him. I think I could beat him out of the fullback position today if I could just get out of my easy chair! Better yet, Paul, keep it! I think I will stay settled in my easy chair, less chance of injury.

  7. Ken,
    Thanks for submitting this article and photos of Gary. He 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 Tharpe 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.
    Thanks for what you do with this publication. I look forward to it daily.

  8. I knew Gary and had a class with him. Real nice guy and very friendly. Someone asked the question about the sports at Central High being integrated. They (sports) were integrated, the picture that was posted just shows the cycle of some teams not having blacks because there was not that many in Cape Central High at that time.
    Regards to all.

  9. I was happy to see this information about Gary in today’s letter. Gary was a close friend of mine throughout high school, and I was heartbroken when he died. He was very proud of being a Marine and eager to go to Vietnam. Weren’t we innocent then? When I visited The Wall, the first thing I did was to look for his name; I knew it would be there, but still the confirmation was somehow shocking and painful. The Vietnam War was monumental in the lives of our generation in so many ways. Whenever someone mentions the war, I always remember this sweet boy who died so young and so needlessly.

    Nancy Linebarger Stone

  10. How ironic to be reading this on the 45th anniversary of Gary’s death. At some point in my high school years I had the biggest crush on him. What a great guy he was…he was a guys’ guy and good on the eyes for the ladies. Strange, I always assumed he died in combat but non the less he gave his life for us. And I have to agree with Larry Sadler about the value of the Vietnam war and our current engagements. Hopefully, those living in these countries will appreciate the sadrifices our military has made. God Bless.

  11. I grew up with Bob and new Gary very well. Most of us that fought the war would do it again! Freedom does not come free. Bob and I were scheduled to get out the same day.

  12. Thanks, as always, for a great article. I’d really like to see the complete photo of the 1964 Track Team.

  13. I remember them both. Bob Taylor was like an older brother. We had great times together. I served in Viet Nam 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 dont 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.

  14. Gary Schemel was tough as steel. I know because I competed against him every day in practice for years. He was a year older than me and I thought he never liked me tell one time I was in a pinch with a some guy on the SEMO track team and Gary came to my defense. A true teammate. He was class of ’64.

    1. You’re right about him being Class of 64. I’ve been claiming him as a fellow member of the Class of 65. I’ll have to change any references to it. Thanks.

    2. I remember Gary as a standout discus hurler. The discus circle was adjacent to the pole vault runway. I also know that coach Dutch Meyer made the discus hurlers and pole vaulter run in a 440 yard race in a track meet. CRUEL AND UNUSUAL PUNISMENT.

  15. Memorial Day in some countries is called Remembrance Day, and you posts about Gary and Bobby have helped all of us remember. I hope their families know that their sons will not be forgotten because of the good memories they left with so many of us. For the “boys” who served and came home, you are also remembered with honor on this day. Thank you.

  16. I believe Bill Hogan was also killed in Viet Nam. I’m not sure what year he graduated but I went to Central with him and I was class of 68,(although I moved to IL in the middle of my jr year and graduated there). I still consider myself to be Class of 68. Bill Hogan was a very kind kid, well-mannered, polite.

  17. When I learned the details of Gary’s drowning, I wasn’t surprised. I spent many afternoons in the Capaha pool with him. Gary couldn’t swim a lick, but he was fearless in the deeper end of the pool. When he would run out of air, he would simply drop to the bottom and push off hard enough to surface and catch another breath…and across the pool he would go. He was fearless.

    Most of us knew that Gary had a rough upbringing. I met up with him at a party when he was home on leave from the Marines. He was very proud to be a Marine. It seemed like he found a home with the Marines. His untimely death was a shock to us all. I played taps at his funeral. Will never forget that. Didn’t seem real.

  18. It was heart warming to read your posts. Gary and I became friends through football and track at Central. He was a magnificent athlete, great person with a tender heart. I left for West Germany my junior year but came back to attend Semo, living in Myers Hall. One night about 8pm, I was asked to come to the front desk and there stood Gary. Hadn’t seen him for 2 years. He needed a place to stay so we dragged a cot in, got him showered, etc. We then walked to the Greyhound bus station on Frederick. He waved goodbye as the bus left into the night. I never saw him again. I heard he drowned in a river crossing, carrying heavy ammunition in Vietnam. Gary couldn’t swim. Years later, at a Central High Football game, we had a halftime dedication in his honor at Houck Stadium and I presented somethings to members of his family. He was given a standing ovation. Gary was truly one of the best. Mike Richey

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