“We pulled a lot of soldiers out of the water,” Schmutzler said as he remembered the circumstances that led to his being in Hawaii and the fateful day that forced the United States into World War II.
Schmutzler grew up on a small farm in Wisconsin and his brother, Jim, was already in the Army when Schmutzler turned 18.
“Things were rough — just got through the Depression era,” Schmutzler said. “My brother wrote to me and told me how wonderful the Army was.”
After being offered a choice between Alaska, where it was even colder than Wisconsin; the jungles of Panama, which he knew nothing about; or Hawaii and its sandy beaches, Schmutzler signed up and headed to Hawaii.
That was July, 1941. He had no way of knowing what was in store just six months down the road.
Two weeks prior to Dec. 7, Schmutzler said, the military in Hawaii was in a lock-down alert because a sabotage was expected, especially with the large number of Japanese living in Hawaii. But, on Dec. 6, it was called off. Everything changed around 7:50 a.m. the next morning while he was in the mess hall for breakfast.
“We heard a lot of explosions and the bugle was blowing a call to arms, but we had never heard that call before, so we didn’t know what it meant,” Schmutzler said. “We heard the explosions, but that was not unusual because they did a lot of practicing, even on Sundays. Then, all of a sudden, .20 millimeter shells came ripping through the roof. Everybody hit the deck. Then we ran outside and looked up. Lo and behold, they were not American planes. They were Japanese,” he said. “They had the red meatball painted on the aircraft. We didn’t have any anti-aircraft ammunition to shoot at them, so we had the little 1903 Springfield rifles. We shot down two zeroes. They crashed in the ocean.”
That was the first wave of 183 Japanese aircraft. The next wave came an hour later and there were 170 in it. By then, Schmutzler and his fellow soldiers had ammunition, but most of the damage had already been done.
“It was really chaotic. Nobody knew what was going on,” he said.
By the time it was over, 2,350 were dead, including 68 civilians. Another 1,178 were injured.
“The next day, everything was calm other than little fires here and there,” Schmutzler said. “We could hear the people aboard the Oklahoma. It had capsized. You could hear them banging on the hull trying to get out. They couldn’t get out and they couldn’t get in to get them out.”
“When most people think about Pearl Harbor, they always think of the Navy and the ships. And they did suffer the most,” Schmutzler said. “But every airfield, every Army base and every Marine Corps base was hit simultaneously.”
The attack on Pearl Harbor is still near the forefront of the Griffin resident’s mind and the Voice of Veterans member tells the story to area school children whenever called upon.
Although Pearl Harbor was the beginning of U.S. involvement in the war, it was definitely not the end. Schmutzler went on to serve 36 months in the Pacific, where they fought the Japanese on a nightly basis, and even spent time in Alaska.
According to Schmutzler, he made the rounds. He even met his wife, Luisa, while serving in the war. She was a WAC.
“Right after the war started, the rallying cry was ‘Remember Pearl Harbor.’” Schmutzler said. “Now, it’s forgotten.”