By: Karla Jensen
When Del Schultz approached me about his story, he piqued my interest by telling me, “This a story I’ve never told anyone. I think you’re the person who should hear it and write my story.” I met confidentially with Del many times at his kitchen table in his one-bedroom apartment. I sat on the edge of my chair giving full attention, like a rookie military recruit at basic training I imagined him to be seventy years earlier. I knew he could snap me in half right then and there, as burly now as he certainly was back in the day; but I wasn’t concerned. I knew this story had to be told and, as the daughter of another WWII vet myself, I recall from a young age how so many relatives remained tight-lipped about their experiences. Their memories I have since discovered were often unpleasant and unbearable in so many ways that to bury the past became easier than exposing it.
A few months into this project, I realized the work I would be producing is not simply the memoir of a World War II veteran, but an intense study into what the human spirit can endure. It’s a lesson on how long we can keep secrets hidden in our hearts and pretend they don’t gnaw at us. The work that follows is a snapshot of how one person well into his nineties can still see glimpses of himself as an impressionable teenager. Depending on what day I visited with Del, I shared space with an invincible eighteen-year-old Marine, a stoic but driven middle-aged intelligent professional, a beloved, active senior later in the week, a jaded veteran by the weekend, and most often, a seeker of justice – not merely to right any wrongs he may have committed, but to realize truly how manipulative the military could be and how that impacted his life even into his ninth decade.
1941 – December 7 Pearl Harbor
1942 – Enlisted at age 17 and turned 18 in October
1943 – Attended first ever Scout/Sniper Training School in California
1944 – Spring Tinian
1944 – April 1-June Okinawa
1944 – June -July Battle of Saipan
1945 – February Iwo Jima Flag Raising
1945 – August 9 Nagasaki after bomb dropped
1946 – February Hawaii and Great Lakes Naval Hospital
1946 – July Burned records between physician visits
1946 – July 7 Discharged
1948 – September Married sweetheart Lola
2010 – October 2 Attended Badger Honor Flight
Chapter 1 – Achilles Heel
Del Schultz dreams of killing every night. No matter how hard he tries, he still sees the bloodied and dead bodies of those wiped from the earth slain by his own hand. There’s no cure, no healing, and no remission to his getting over a monumental betrayal like the one he has endured. His soul is as wounded as a buck during hunting season that can’t come back around from his injuries. His once-naïve idea of patriotism passed away uneventfully along with the casualties of war and no one, let alone Del, has discovered how to revive it. And so this former sniper, scout and hand-to-hand combat killer sleeps less and lives more, betrayal a bitter motivator to dismiss his military history and forget his service history.
Del conceals his past just beneath his attractive exterior with his distinguished white hair, burly physique, and still-handsome smile. Like a chameleon, he has mastered the art of transformation to remind himself who he is rather than who he was. In his newly adopted persona, Del is gentle, trustworthy and upstanding. He exudes old-fashioned charm, manners, integrity and even doting devotion to his family and friends. Yet, for seventy years, this fugitive from history attempts to keep his dark past subdued, shrouded in secrecy. He doesn’t want to remember the shame of his actions and has tried to scrub the visions from his mind as if time and forward motion can be the bristles that keep his new soul pristine.
Del is older and wiser; he is a product of his generation, one that has evolved over time. He is no longer the callous killing machine the Marines trained him to be. He has cast off the shadow of post-traumatic stress that had no name in 1944. He has sat in the lap of death and served as its footstool, though unwittingly. He has erased every shred of evidence that might have once connected him to this stealthy and deadly past, and yet there remains a slim thread, a hangnail of a menacing memory that Del would like to eradicate or at the least prune. It’s bothered him long enough.
Del is a veteran who often cannot bring himself to speak about his service in the Marines. What began as skill honed for a job where “kill or be killed” became a daily mantra and threat, his affliction of excelling at hand-to-hand combat became his Achilles heel. What military training had somehow “turned on,” Del quickly discovered he could not “turn off.”
Del often reiterated the difference between what his objective as a Marine Scout was and his own responsibility in carrying out regretful acts of daring. His leaders charged him with gathering information and intelligence. That was it. Yet, because of his own boldness, his risky behaviors took on a life of its own. He killed with ease and confidence because he could.
Not quite to the point of killing for sport, Del found killing second nature, although he was not a combat man. In 1944-1946, his first and foremost chore was to locate the enemy and obtain information about the Japanese. In the shadows of night, Del spoke to his Japanese enemies in their own language, enticing them forward with his expert dialect and mimicked nuances. Nonetheless, Del would disappear for days, venturing out unaccompanied and sometimes without orders.
As an important asset to HQ, his position as Scout/Sniper was protected. He was awarded special positions of leadership. Soon, as Del attempted to disengage from his role, anyone who confronted him became a target as well. What Del could not foresee is how his split-second instincts spilled over into civilian life. He encountered many close calls out of uniform and beyond the call of duty. Just the right Jujitsu move or karate chop could eliminate both innocent bystanders and enemies alike. Eventually and far too easily, lines became blurred between the two. Bar flies and hitchhikers didn’t know to whom they stood against – a Wisconsin farm boy with uncanny force and strength or a calculating, cold-blooded killer.
When the institution that trained him accused him of falling in love with killing, they had no idea how to stop what they had created. In 1946, when Marine physicians in Hawaii and the Great Lakes Naval Hospital callously and literally forgot about him, Del’s bitterness towards his Marine superiors grew like a fungus. Thus began the decline of the Marines acknowledging that this conflicted warrior was their responsibility and the rise of Del’s intense vow to erase his military history forever.
Beginning from his enlistment as a young man in the Marines at the naïve age of seventeen in 1942, Del embarked upon an unimaginable journey to the other side of the world and back. From hand-to-hand combat, Scout and Sniper training in California in 1943 to scouring the Japanese islands after the bomb was dropped in 1945, Del transformed from information gatherer and peacekeeper into a killing machine. Often emotionless and forgetful, this warrior found the only way to survive and sustain our freedom: through killing.
Chapter 2 – Call to Duty
“You’re never going home. You’ll never come out of these missions alive. You will be shot or killed or taken prisoner. If you accept that reality now, you’ll make a better Marine. Kiss your future goodbye and do the right thing: serve your country and fight for the freedom of America.”
A farm boy from Dodge County, Wisconsin, doesn’t grow up believing he’ll be hurled into a life and death arena, wondering if he’ll make it to twenty-one, but during the early 1940s, this was the reality of manhood. Del didn’t know with each heft of the pitchfork and every round of the thrashing machine that he came inches closer to a career – no, a sentence – of indentured servitude to the almighty military machine called the Marines. Had he known the difficult and demanding path that stretched before him, he might not have been so eager to flaunt his strength, stamina, and exceptional physique. But he did, and what his immediate family could not fathom, military recruiters could.
“My father used me on the farm as a regular slave. I worked on the farm until ten p.m., filling silo for different farmers and plowing. My father liked the idea of hunting, but didn’t accomplish it so I did all the hunting as well. When ammunition dwindled, I traded pheasant for shells. I used a shotgun and rifle at an early age. I practiced shooting small fingernail polish bottles off a ledge and soon, I became an avid marksman.” That was an understatement.
Del tells the story of his work at a local feed mill prior to his enlistment. “In those days, wheat came in 120 pound bags, definitely a two-man job to pull from a cart and stack. I worked my ass off because I desperately wanted to prove myself to the older guys. Without assistance from anyone else, I stacked those heavy bags 10 high, 80 across. When the men who worked at the mill reappeared, they asked, ’Who helped you with these bags?’ I told them it was just me. They were floored.
With brains and brawn, Del stood at the threshold of a bright future beyond the hills and lakes of Wisconsin – beyond the endless routine of farm chores, doing someone else’s bidding, or so he thought, and beyond the shadow of his father’s expectations. When the Marines came calling, he answered, attracted to this branch of the service because of the engaging and compelling propaganda he discovered in literature and in the media. This young man soon determined that the Marines could not only benefit from his endurance and grit, but that he might gain something marvelous yet unnamed.
1943. Twelve weeks of Basic Training proved his proficiency and power, catapulting Del ahead of his mates. When drill sergeants challenged exhausted rookies, “Who wants to do this routine again?” the boy from Wisconsin would raise his hand. “I’ll do it again, sir!” Glutton for punishment or braggart? He was neither, just an eighteen-year-old testosterone-driven engine of a man, eager for his first assignment.
“Every Marine goes through a marksmanship training course,” recalls Del. “I waited to hear how I faired in the first phase, but heard nothing. Finally, a guy approached me one day and said, ‘You have to reshoot,’ so I did. Once again, I heard nothing. Then the same guy requested that I shoot the course again. This is when I started getting a little scared. When I received a third invite, this scared the hell out of me. At the time, I already knew I was skilled – my rifle practically grew out of my finger. I craved to be an expert rifleman. Finally, on a designated day, I reported to the range where a large set of bleachers was set up for an audience. Twenty to thirty brass lined up to watch me. I didn’t know what the hell was going on, but I knew I had to perform here and now. I did my best that afternoon, showing my skill. One officer simply said, ‘My God, we have an Annie Oakley with a gun,’ and they placed me directly in the sniper pool. After Basic, I attended the very first Scout/Sniper school the Marines offered.
“The Marines were eager to get us into combat,” recalls Del sarcastically, as if only today, in this very moment, the irony of him living to tell his tale finally dawned on him. “We lived at the Scout/Sniper school in the California hill country, learning the techniques of hand-to-hand combat which included Jujitsu, Karate, and knife throwing. Del quickly discovered how wonderfully adept his agile and resilient body took to these new wrestling maneuvers, holds, punches and kicks. What started as a unit of thirty recruits dwindled to a core group of eighteen to twenty men, the others falling away or falling apart under high expectations for this elite group of trainees.
“I knew early on that my strength resided in my hands,” claims Del. “I could deliver a killing blow expertly, without a lot of thought. I could also squeeze someone’s temples to deliver the same strike that would not only instantly knock out my enemy, but truly and swiftly end his life.
“As a scout, we were trained to move forward with our combat units while as a sniper we learned how to retreat,” Del explained methodically, as if he reached back into his memory like another would simply snag a wallet from his pocket. He did so casually, without thinking, by shear repetition, as if he had just returned from a dangerous scouting venture moments prior. Did a newsreel filled with those nighttime rendezvous unravel as he remembered those chilling, lonely quests? His eyes flashed bursts of recollections like he might have remembered every single one of those instances, or none of them at all.
Del toiled over detailed maps of islands, a vast and foreign enemy territory rife with alleged desperados equal in skill and aptitude who were also receiving training. With a vast network of islands, he became vigilant in understanding how sniping and scouting would be carried out surrounded by the enemy. He knew full well the opposition would have as much wherewithal, or at least hatred, to obliterate Americans.
With the punitive upbringing Del endured as a youth, he felt like even the harshest of reprimands and warnings given by his ruthless drill instructors did not faze him. These admonishments didn’t lessen his passion to move to the top of his class nor did it unnerve him to yield in any way to his supervisors. “They couldn’t touch me or get to me in any way,” claimed Del. “I was tough like nobody else. I recall my drill instructors saying to us, ‘No man has ever gone through here –meaning training- without drawing blood.’ They’d order us to pound our hands on the pavement until our palms bled. However, my hands were so calloused from farm work that I endured far beyond every other guy without producing blood. Finally, my DI demanded that I drag my nose across the pavement instead to draw blood so that I could be done with the exercise.”
Del trained in the mountains east of San Diego. He served on many islands, beginning with Tinian and Saipan in the Mariana Islands. By February of 1945, he then moved onto Iwo Jima, Okinawa, Naha and Iheyashima. Ultimately, he wound up in Nagasaki, Japan, by August of 1945. In early 1946, he was sent to Hawaii, not to serve, but to move about for less than obvious reasons, a ping-pong ball of a living military casualty of war.
He was unwanted by certain circles, wanted desperately by others and uncertain of any real future at all. Del, lost and found in the same breath, was not your typical post-traumatic stressed out Marine, but one who longed to find purpose in his madness and mission, albeit an unexpected and controversial one at that. If only he could have anticipated how his strong desire to exact revenge on the foreign nation that attacked Pearl Harbor would haunt him for the remainder of his life.