GLEN DALE, W.Va. (WTRF) – Many veterans may say that service doesn’t end when you are discharged. If your experiences don’t stay with you, the commitment to helping others does.
That’s certainly how Harry David Schoenian feels.
As a leader in Vietnam he was committed to keeping his men safe. At home, he still honors that promise to serve his brothers.
1967 I put a uniform on. I made an oath to this country. That uniform never came off, ever. I might of physically hung it in the closet. I might of turned the light out on it, but that uniform never came off.Dave Schoenian, Veteran
Physically Dave Schoenian doesn’t wear his Army uniform anymore. Emotionally, he never took it off when it comes to commitment to preserving the memory of friends he lost in Vietnam, keeping in touch with those still here, serving the community, or giving a soldier one final salute.
I won’t let them be forgotten from Charlie Company. It won’t happen.Dave Schoenian, Veteran
His life forever changed after being drafted into the Army.
Coming from a family that had several members serving in World War II, various branches, I never envisioned the fact that I was going to be drafted. In fact, I didn’t know what the Vietnam War was. I didn’t pay that much attention to it.Dave Schoenian, Veteran
Schoenian recalls he was working in Illinois with his father on a construction job when he got his draft notice from Marshall County.
I didn’t have to go to Vietnam. I was an only child. I could of got out of going, but after I got through the training, I said I’m no better than the rest of them. I’m going.Dave Schoenian, Veteran
He went to Fort Bragg for basic training, Vietnam infantry preparedness at Fort Polk and then NCO (non-commissioned officer) school at Fort Benning, where he was trained by Vietnam veterans.
Schoenian would become part of the 90th replacement company 9th infantry division, 2nd brigade. Once in Vietnam, he was assigned to the Mobile Riverine Force, which was a task force with the Navy. Schoenian spent 12-months in the Mekong Delta as part of that force.
Army troops would barrack on Navy ships on the widest part of the river. When it was time for a mission, they would be brought on landing craft in narrow channels.
They can hear you coming five miles away and they’re going to get hit. They’re going to get hit coming and going.Dave Schoenian, Veteran
Schoenian recalls the tense moments going down the channels waiting for the doors of the landing craft to open.
What we got off into that was just gut-wrenching. When that ramp goes down you don’t know what’s out there. You have to navigate the mud, get into the jungle foliage and you don’t know who’s in there.
It was quite an experience and I’ll give the Navy credit. They had it just as tough as we did because when those craft got attacked those rockets penetrated those metal gun turrets and everything and that’s where I got wounded.Dave Schoenian, Veteran
Schoenian explains this was only a few months into his time in Vietnam. It was a bad week with multiple losses in his company. And this moment would mark the start of his combat experience.
I just traded places with a guy and when the rocket hit it blew his leg off. Threw me into the back of the craft with about six others and I was the least wounded.Dave Schoenian, Veteran
Schoenian did recover and was able to go back to his duties.
But that’s when I knew this was going to be a long year.Dave Schoenian, Veteran
Schoenian was part of 49 combat missions, plus all the amphibious missions with the Navy ships. Each time he would spend a few days on that mission, then be picked up and sent back to the ship.
Beyond the job he was given, he says the greater mission was to survive, and keep his men safe.
It’s just a hard thing when you have to wrap up a body and put it in a poncho. You don’t get used to it, but you don’t have time. The missions go on. You don’t quit. You don’t call time out. You keep moving. You keep fighting.Dave Schoenian, Veteran
He went to great lengths to do so.
As Schoenian sat in front of his medals recalling these experiences in Vietnam, there’s only one medal Schoenian said that truly matters, awarded for saving two men from a fast-moving current.
They were my men. They were swept away. By the grace of God I found them under the water in full equipment, was able to bring them both back.Dave Schoenian, Veteran
After a year in Vietnam, Schoenian knew it was time to come home.
I had been promoted to Staff Sergeant, Platoon Sergeant and for my last months and I just decided if I went back and did the same job I probably wasn’t going to make it home again.Dave Schoenian, Veteran
He was discharged in July of 1969 and was home in Glen Dale within three days.
While he physically left the country, the memories never left him. Schoenian says that took a toll on him throughout his life. He struggled with survivors guilt and trauma that never went away. He credits his family, friends and most of all his wife for helping him get through.
Being the wife of a combat veteran is one of the hardest jobs there is because they go through the PTSD and the nights. My wife just couldn’t touch me at night. Finally we had to sleep apart for a while because I’d fight all night long.Dave Schoenian, Veteran
Although he got the help that he needed years later, Schoenian said he never wants to forget his experiences.
A lot of people say in that short period of time that you were in Vietnam, how can that control what you do? Well that stuff’s forever. I don’t want to forget my men who died or were wounded. I don’t want to close that. I’m honoring them. They got me home.Dave Schoenian, Veteran
Schoenian still keeps in touch with members of Charlie Company.
He serves the veteran community in this area in many ways and told 7News his phone is always on for any veteran who needs him at any hour of the day.
When he talks about his service now, Schoenian speaks highly of his time as a member of the Military Order of the Purple Heart.
That Purple Heart group, those POWs the Iwo Jima, Korea, they accepted me. I knew then I’d made it. They always said in Vietnam ‘welcome home’. Well, I was coming home.Dave Schoenian, Veteran
He is perhaps most committed to being part of the Moundsville Veterans Honor Guard.
It’s an honor for me to bend down and hand that family member that folded flag and give them the words that they want to here. God gave me that gift so I can do it and I’m proud to do it.Dave Schoenian, Veteran
Schoenian calls it an honor to present the family of a veteran with the folded flag, and said it’s a gift from God to be able to do so.