Barry Schmelzer the fourth of sixth children born to John and Lucille Schmelzer arrived in 1949. They lived in West Liberty, Iowa for the first few years of Barry’s life. When his father took a job at an Oscar Meyer processing plant in Iowa the family moved to Rock Island, Illinois. This would be home for Barry until he enlisted in the Army.
Life was not easy for Barry, his siblings or his mother Lucille. When Barry was ten, his father disappeared and had no contact with any of his children for the next several years. Lucille had been a stay-at- home mom until this point but found it necessary to work in a factory to make ends meet. Barry was basically a good young man, an average student at Rock Island High School but began to make decisions that could have led him down the wrong path. He was able to convince his mother to sign the Army’s enlistment waiver allowing him to join at seventeen.
Just days after his seventeenth birthday Barry left high school, and Rock Island behind, arriving at Ft. Leonard Wood for basic training on the 5th of May 1966. Based on his pre-enlistment aptitude tests, Barry was steered into being a clerk. He would complete both basic and AIT at Ft. Leonard Wood. Upon graduation Barry received orders to Ft. Carson, Colorado to join the HQ Company of the 1st Battalion, 77th Armor Regiment. He arrived on base in November of 1966. In April of 1967, wanting to see more of the world, Barry requested a transfer and joined the HQ Company of the U.S. Army General Depot located in Kaiserslautern, Germany. He was assigned as a Personnel Record Specialist for a bit before being promoted to Spec-4 and assuming the duties of an Assistant Personnel Management Specialist.
Being a typical young man, serving as a clerk was not what Barry had joined the Army for. Wanting to be more involved in military operations, Barry requested a transfer to Vietnam. He had to wait until his 18th birthday as that was policy and then had to request permission from the Army, and his mother, to go as his older brother Greg was already serving in Vietnam. Still having a clerical MOS, Barry arrived in country joining the 527th Personnel Service Group, 593rd General Supply Group of the 1st Logistical Command. (1st Log, “The First with the Most”) Barry describes this initial duty as pretty safe and secure as there was only the occasional sniper attack at his base, which was quickly responded to with “truck mounted quad-50’s”!
Still eager to be away from a desk, Barry and others from the 527th would
volunteer for perimeter guard duty on a strategic signal relay site on Vung Chua mountain. They would spend seven days on guard duty and then receive 4 days off when they returned to base. This was a relative quiet assignment. This dramatically changed in the dark early morning hours of January 30, 1968, when the VC launched the Tet Offensive.
Barry recalls, “The VC attacked, firing and sending soldiers through the wire with satchel charges that they threw into bunkers. We spent the entire night in bunkers fighting, firing into the dark. This was my first action and the fighting was so intense I was certain I was going to die. I desperately wanted a piece of paper or a card so I could write my last words to my mother.”
“The fighting went on all night. We were overrun but the response of Huey gunships and towards dawn the arrival of “Spooky” that set down unbelievable suppression fire, saved us.”
When dawn on the 31st broke the VC vanished and the survivors just stood up and stared at the scene around them trying to absorb what they had gone through. Barry was unharmed but the two soldiers in the bunker next to him were not as fortunate. One soldier, (Barry was able to find out his identity two years ago) Thomas Badger, was killed by a satchel charge. His bunker mate, Jim Cutsforth was wounded and knocked unconscious. He briefly came to, only to find a VC removing his watch and rifle. He played dead and survived.
Barry and the remaining soldiers were evaced out by helicopter. Barry was so impressed with the gunship crews that he requested a transfer to become a door gunner. He was accepted into the 5th Aviation Detachment, nicknamed “The Outcasts.” They were a “slick” unit and their primary task was transporting CID personnel out to interview VC prisoners and transport both back. Their area of service was a triangle of Da Nang, Nha Trang and Ahn Khe. He really enjoyed this duty assignment;
“I was on an early version Huey that had the M-60 held in place by a bungee cord. I liked it but the pilots hated it, fearing what would happen if the “gun ran away” shooting up the ship!”
From March to December 1968 he flew with the Outcasts. When it came time for Barry to leave Nam he extended his in-country duty as he did not want to return to the states and be stuck at a base for his remaining six months. Because he had enlisted Barry was “regular” Army and was granted a 30-day leave to the States. When he got back in country, Barry was requested to join the 127th MP Company, who had watched Barry and were impressed with him.
“For six months, with OJT MP training, I primarily rode jeep patrols with ARVN and Korean ROK MP’s. The VC were terrified of the ROK soldiers as they did not have the strict restrictions on rules engagement US soldiers had.”
Barry arrived back in Seattle the first week of June of 1969, to out-process and return home to civilian life. He returned to Rock Island moving in with his older brother John and his wife. While Barry had been on leave, he had been introduced to John’s wife sister, a lovely young lady named Audrey, “who really impressed me”. The couple began dating when he came back and after three months of courtship, in September of 1969 Barry and Audrey were married. (They celebrated their 50th wedding this past September.)
Audrey had just graduated with her Licensed Practical Nursing degree and began her nursing career. Barry used his GI Bill to attend Blackhawk Community College taking Criminal Justice classes while also working full-time at a food warehouse. He would graduate cum laude in 1972 with an Associate’s degree in Criminal Justice, and immediately transferred over to St. Ambrose University where he graduated in 1976 with a Bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice.
In 1974, Barry had been hired as a patrol officer with the Moline Police
Department. (Moline is a nice “bedroom” suburb with a population of about
44,000 people.) Barry really enjoyed being a police officer and moved up the ranks in the Moline department. In 1978 he was promoted to Homicide/Violent Crimes Detective. In 1981 he became a Sergeant assigned to overseeing patrol officers on the 2nd /3rd shifts. In 1988 he became a Lieutenant where he would stay until his retirement in 1999 after 25 years of service. (His favorite year as a police officer was 1994 when the Moline Police Department sent him to Quantico to complete the FBI training course! This is his official FBI photo.)
During his time on the police force Barry returned to school, taking classes at Western Illinois University earning his Master’s degree in Criminal Justice Administration in 1986. This opened the door for him to join the faculty at St. Ambrose University as an Adjunct Professor teaching Criminal Justice and Sociology classes from 1990 to 2000.
He and Audrey had welcomed two children, John in 1971, and Kim in 1975 to their family. When the children were in school Audrey also continued her studies earning her RN which she used to care for patients both at the hospital and a private practice.
Barry, not ready to retire to a rocking chair, accepted an offer from (John) Deere and Company in 1999, initially to be a corporate investigator. He was responsible to investigate cases of potential financial crimes/fraud in Deere dealerships as well as death/injury incidents in Deere factories or involving Deere equipment.
“This took me to Brazil, Mexico, Japan, Canada and all over the US.”
He was eventually promoted to the Risk Management Division Manager, assigned to assess factories on their ability to withstand fire, explosions or natural disasters such as tornados. After 9\11 he was also charged to see what security measure were needed to “harden” factories against attacks. He stayed with Deere until 2011.
Both Barry and Audrey are now retired. They spend most of their time doing the “rough duty” of being grandparents to six grandchildren ages 19-8. For a number of years, they were “snowbirds” spending winters in Florida. But it became too crowded there for them, so they now stay in Illinois all year.
Barry is a young, vibrant seventy years old. I loved spending time speaking with him. (Barry has had some health issues, including lung cancer likely related to AO exposure in Vietnam. He has also been partially rebuilt with new knees and shoulders worn out during his police years, but now says “I am good as new!”)
Thank you, Barry, for your service to our country and to the citizens of Moline! OOORAH!