Medal Of Honor Soldier Receives Long-Overdue Military Burial In San Diego
A Medal of Honor hero once forgotten, is remembered.
Army Sgt. Charles Schroeter was a cavalryman from the Civil War era. Thursday, he was given the war hero recognition he earned nearly 150 years ago.
Hundreds paid their respects to Schroeter at the Miramar National Cemetery, including two Medal of Honor recipients, veterans young and old, and three-dozen Army members from Forthood Texas and Fort Irwin California.
"Today we bring Sgt. Schroeter to a place that’s distinguished and right for him to rest. A place he properly deserves," said Brig. Gen. Joseph Martin, commanding general of the National Training Center in Fort Irwin.
"And it goes without saying that here in the United States he fought for his American dream and gave all of us a little piece of it,” Martin added.
Sgt. Charles Schroeter's Heroic Actions
Schroeter was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for gallantry during the Battle of Rocky Mesa on Oct. 20, 1869. The battle followed an Apache attack on a stagecoach that left two civilians and four troopers dead.
Then a private, Schroeter and his comrades, under the command of Capt. Reuben Bernard, tracked the Apaches, led by the great Chief Cochise, into the Chiracahua Mountains of southeast Arizona.
Called the Campaign of Rocky Mesa, the battle was fought on a miserably cold and rainy day. The Apaches had the high ground, and the troopers were hard-pressed to survive the rifle fire that rained down on them from above. Two men were killed and one wounded before darkness brought an end to the fighting.
Schroeter received the Medal of Honor for his "gallantry in action" in 1869 in a fierce battle in Arizona during the Indian Wars.
But for decades, his ashes went unclaimed. They were stored in an unmarked communal crypt at Greenwood Cemetery in southeastern San Diego.
Earlier this week his Army comrades reclaimed their brother in arms.
"It’s an honor for us to be here for Sgt. Schroeter, being a Medal of Honor recipient while serving in the 8th Cavalry Regiment," said Lt. Col. Felix Perez, battalion commander with the 8th Cavalry regiment from Fort Hood, Texas.
"I’m proud of the accomplishments of this great hero, Sgt. Schroeter," Perez said. "He is part of our history — not only our regimental history but part of our country’s history."
Schroeter's remains were located just recently when the Congressional Medal of Honor Society traced them to that unmarked crypt at Greenwood.
"It was down a long dark hallway," described Bill Heard, spokesman for the Miramar National Cemetery Support Foundation. "The workers pulled out a casket and in that casket, once they opened it up, were a number of remains. One of the boxes was his, marked very clearly with his name."
Heard said he helped with the months of researching and poring over of military reports, historical archives and census data to show the Veterans Administration that Schroeter did deserve to be buried in a veterans cemetery as a Medal of Honor recipient.
He said he had to prove to the VA that the Schroeter at Greenwood was the same soldier given the nation’s highest combat award.
"Not just where he served, but what was going on at the time that he served there," Heard said. "When he was in the Civil War? Where did he fight? And what were those battles like?"
He said one of the frustrating things about the research was a lack of personal documentation. "We don't have a picture of him. We don’t have any letters to him or from him to understand what his personality was," Heard said. Still, he was able to compile a detailed history and physical description of Schroeter.
"He was a guy about my size — about 5 feet 6 inches. He weighed 135 pounds," Heard said. "He had brown hair, brown eyes. At the end of his career he had bullet wounds, he had saber scars. He was a tough little guy."
Born on July 4, 1837, Schroeter immigrated to the United States from Germany before the Civil War.
"Times were hard in Germany, and so like a lot of young Germans he felt he had to come to the new world to make a living," Heard said. "So he came here alone without any family."
According to records, he never married and had no children. He enlisted in the Army at 25 and served in the military for 30 years.
"And how he managed to survive all of those years, all those 30 years in some of the most intense battles of the Civil War and the hardships that were experienced by those who fought in the West ... it’s a wonder the guy survived," Heard said.
Schroeter lived to be 84. He spent the last three years of his life in San Diego’s Mission Hills neighborhood.
For Heard, a retired Navy captain, the investigation into Schroeter has been fascinating and emotional.
"(I feel) sadness, because he lay among others whose remains have never been claimed in an unmarked crypt for 94 years," Heard said.
He also feels regret that the cavalryman was almost forgotten.
"And then pride that we’re able to sort of bring him back to life at least momentarily for this generation, and to bring people together to celebrate what he, as an immigrant, brought to this country, how faithfully he served under terrible conditions," Heard said.
Schroeter is the first Medal of Honor recipient to be buried in the Miramar National Cemetery.
He’s no longer forgotten. His distinctive headstone is inscribed in gold and bears the Medal of Honor symbol.