By Floyd Takeuchi
The call from the magazine art director was intriguing: could I photograph a World War II veteran who was still serving his country, and his fellow vets, by being a full-time volunteer at Hawaii’s State Veterans Cemetery. That alone would have made it an interesting story, but it got better. This veteran, the art director for the American Legion Magazine told me, served with the 101st Airborne Division, jumped on D-Day into France, and was wounded during the days that followed June 6, 1944
In getting to know Zane Schlemmer, I got to know a true hero, one of those self-less men who went off to war as part of the “greatest generation.” The hero I met was a slight man, still able to wear his World War II uniform. Quiet, self-effacing, we chatted in the modest, tidy apartment he rented above a garage. It was little more than a room with a bed, table and chair, and a small bathroom.
I have found that combat veterans don’t particularly like to talk about their time on the battlefield. Partly, I think, it is modesty. Their generation wasn’t big on being “big headed” about their accomplishments. But mostly, I’m sure, it was the sense that they were the lucky ones – they remembered too many comrades who never made it home.
I got a brief hint of that when Mr. Schlemmer, who is of German ancestry, told me what happened after he and some other troopers discovered American soldiers who had been shot to death by German soldiers after being captured. As he told me, that incident took care of any qualms he may have had about shooting young men who were of the same ancestry.
One of the gifts of journalism, for those of us fortunate enough to practice this trade, is that we get to spend time with people like Zane Schlemmer. I think the memory I remember most clearly of our time together is when I commented on how neat his apartment was, even his closet (which was open), all of the shirts and pants carefully pressed and hanging in order. He walked over to the closet, and brought back a pair of shiny brown leather boots. They were his jump boots. Still with a parade ready shine. Still ready to be laced up and worn into battle.