New Milford veteran recalls ‘fighting like hell’ in World War II

Photo of Sandra Diamond Fox

NEW MILFORD — George Schneider, a U.S. Army veteran who will celebrate his 97th birthday on Tuesday, keeps an active schedule, drawing and going to yoga class at the Village Crest Center for Health & Rehabilitation, where he is council president.

A father of six and grandparent and great-grandparent to “many,” Schneider served in the U.S. Army from 1942 to 1945, earning the rank of staff sergeant.

When asked about his years in the Army during 1940s, the man with the bright smile and sunny disposition easily steps back more than three-quarters of a century to a different place and time.

He was 18 and a student at Brewster High School in New York when he was drafted.

“They had so many airplanes they were building and they ran out of college guys,” said Schneider Wednesday from inside a conference room at Village Crest. “So they said, ‘Have you got your high school diploma?’ I said, ‘You drafted me out of high school.’”

He was sent to Fort Dix, N.J., to get his uniform and inoculations. When the day arrived for him and his unit to ship out, “We got on a train but they wouldn’t tell us where we were going,” said Schneider, as long-buried memories came to the surface.

While stationed in Denver, Colo., Schneider was trained to work on turrets and machine guns, he said.

“After every mission, I would take the barrels out and clean them and put them back in and adjust them,” he said.

He said the B-29 was the newest plane out and armament men were needed, “so right away, they grabbed me and took me out of gunner school and put me in armament school where I learned how to operate machine guns.”

Schneider spent the next 21 months traveling to Italy, North Africa, Australia, Egypt, New Guinea, Tinian in the Northern Mariana Islands, India, Arabia and the Suez Canal.

While he and his unit were in Naples, Italy, he saw “fighting like hell,” he said.

Nights were filled with the sound of explosions.

“The German bombers would come over and try to blow us out of the water,” he said. “I was sleeping three decks down but I woke up real fast. I never heard men screaming and hollering as much as I heard then.”

On another occasion, while in India, he saw a plane crash right in front of him.

“It went right into the ground,” he said.


While on an island 1,500 miles south of Tokyo, Schneider’s left hand was seriously injured — and never fully healed.

“When I was trying to put the barrel out in the tail of the plane, I pushed it back and then it blew up. It smashed my hand up,” he said. “I had to spend two months in a hospital. My knuckle broke in pieces.”

Schneider demonstrated how he can’t make a full fist with his injured hand.

Schneider wrote home as much as he could, “especially whenever I was in a new place,” he said, adding all mail was censored.

He said, however, while he missed his family, there wasn’t much time to reflect on them, since every moment of his time was occupied.

“When you’re playing with 500-pound bombs, you’re not thinking about home, you’re thinking about dropping that thing,” he said.

His greatest challenge during the entire time he served?

“To try to get home in one piece,” he said.

Coming home

Schneider was discharged in San Francisco, Calif., in November of 1945. “I wanted to get home for Thanksgiving,” he said, with a smile.

He was then given the chance to either go to college or a trade school. He chose the latter.

“I took refrigeration trade school in New York City,” he said.

He eventually became a maintenance supervisor in the Carmel, N.Y. school district. He also worked as an electrician and owned a sheet metal shop.

Later in life, he became a pilot for recreation, flying around the country.

“I couldn’t make it as a pilot when I served, but I said I was going to make it when I’m 48,” Schneider chuckled.

Prior to moving to Village Crest in 2018, he lived for 34 years in Pawling, N.Y.

His advice to today’s young people is to learn more than one trade.

“Don’t just be a one-horse guy,” he said.

He said the world changed greatly during his lifetime. He remembers the scare caused by scarlet fever, and the “Warning” signs families would post on the front doors of their homes when a member had contracted the illness — at one time, there was a sign on his own home.

When comparing scarlet fever with COVID-19, he said scarlet fever is much worse due to the medical advancements of today.

“If you caught something in those days, you were lucky to survive,” he said. “You didn’t have the medical equipment they have today.”

On Thursday, Village Crest will honor Schneider and other veterans with a meet and greet with members of New Milford’s Veterans of Foreign Wars.

Veterans will be served a flag-themed cake and be presented with a Certificate of Appreciation for their service and a handmade “Thank you for your service” ornament.