RICHARD HENRY SCHROEPPEL
Branch of Service: Army
Rank: First Lieutenant
Honors: Purple Heart, Bronze Star
Service years: 1942- 1945
Glen Rock: Grew up on South Maple, Glen Rock
Born in Glen Rock, NJ on December 10, 1923, Richard Stoffels grew up in Glen Rock with his parents Harold and Bertha Lee Schroeppel. He attended Ridgewood High School where he would graduate and head off to college. He attended the University of Illinois as an engineering major and after his first year, on December 11, 1942, at the age of 19 years old, enlisted at the Chanute Field Air Force Base as a pilot. He was actually the third Schroeppel child to enter the Armed Services, his older brother, staff sergeant Henry Schroeppel, served in the China-Burma-India theater of war and returned to Glen Rock in the spring of 1945, and his older sister, Ruth Schroeppel served as a WAC in Merced, California.
Soon after his enlistment, Schroppel completed his pilot training and became a Second Lieutenant. He was assigned to the 78th Fighter Squadron, also known as the “Bushmaster” squadron, and the 15th Fighter Group. He was also part of the 7th Air Force which was stationed out in the Pacific Theater, flying combat missions over Hawaii, the Central Pacific Ocean, and afterward (towards the end of the war), Japan. Schroeppel flew a P-51D Mustang fighter plane. This plane, built by Boeing originally for the British during the war, was a plane that was not only an excellent fighter plane overall but excelled in hedge-hopping strafing runs, which were needed since that was what Lieutenant Schroeppel was doing as well as long-range escort duty. It was even named the best plane by the Truman Senate War Investigating Committee as “the most aerodynamically perfect pursuit plane in existence."
On August 15, 1944, Schroeppel and his fellow pilots were assigned to the South Pacific theater of war, where Schroeppel was promoted to First Lieutenant. Their assignments were strafing missions in Japan and nearby Chichi-Jima.
ChiChi-Jima, an island off the coast of Japan, was a key island for both countries during the war, Preident George Bush, Louis Zamperini of Unbroken fame, and Glen Rock's Richard Schroeppel all experienced World War II around Chichi Jima. Chichi Jima is about 150 miles north of the infamous island of Iwo-Jima was ChiChi-Jima. This island was the main area for long-range radio stations for the Japanese and just as important the main communications and base for supply between Japan and the Bonin Islands. The island, despite being attacked and targeted numerous times, was never captured and the Japanese on the island only surrendered after the war ended. The Japanese Empire used this island as a POW camp for pilots. Louis Zamperini was first held here as an undeclared POW, given experimental drugs, and continually beaten for information about the Norden bombsight, all against the Geneva Convention rules of war that the Japanese signed. Executives of Wright Aeronautics that produced the Norden Bomb scope lived in Midwood Rd in Glen Rock. President George Bush was also shot down in 1944 off the coast with 8 other men in the same attack. Future President Bush drifted out to sea while the 8 other men swam to Chichi Jima. George Bush would be picked up by a submarine while the 8 were tortured and cannibalized on the island by the Japanese soldiers there.
When Lieutenant Schroepple took off on his last mission on July 3rd, 1945, there was a nice clear sky that would usually make it a great day to run another strafing mission. On this strafing mission, Schroeppel's plane was struck by anti-aircraft fire forcing him to bail out and land in the water. The one-man liferaft P-51s carried hit the water of the Futami Harbor, and Schroeppel sailed along as the fight in the skies continued.
As his raft started to move towards the island, he saw above men who were protecting him as they fought off the artillery from the Japanese in an attempt to prevent communications from the Japanese between the men in the skies and the island. As this was happening, he realized that a strong current put him in danger towards the notorious island. Franticly, he paddled and kept himself stable in one position. American planes were traveling in the sky all over the area, some heading to bombing runs, others strafing Chichi Jima, and this time, 30 minutes since he hit the water, Schroeppel was “being swept onto the beach under Chichi’s cliffs.” Now, as this whole scenario was being watched in the sky, Schroeppel’s fellow men were trying to fend off the Japanese artillery that was aiming at Schroeppel on the raft.
Schroeppel abandoned the raft and swam towards the rocks. This situation was now as unpredictable as it could be. As the men continued to strafe with bullets flying everywhere, the first unsuccessful attempt to save Schroeppel was made when Lieutenant Claude L. Bodin Jr. Some how, at around 12:23, Schroeppel was able to recognize Bodin’s plane, released a dye into the water for a signal for him and signaled for another attempt to get the man. Nothing could be seen down below as the planes continued to hold their ground overhead as Bodin once again went for another rescue attempt. All the men saw was the empty boat rolling in the water, but not their fellow pilot. Calm, collected, and tired, as he stood on the water, he saw the life raft he was originally in and swam towards the raft in an attempt to let the pilots recognize him and rescue him. Then, the unspeakable happened.
As Schroeppel reached the raft, he was not alone. The Japanese finally zeroed in and targeted Schroeppel just as he reached the raft. Between the numerous mortars, small arms, and artillery, the sight was a horrific sight indeed. Now, there was an important decision to be made. Bodin made one more attempt to skim the water and pick up the raft under fire but the artillery was too thick. They could not land.
Bodin's rescue plane had a doctor on it. As they flew continuously circles overhead, the surgeon inspected Schroeppel’s body in the boat. The exposed blisters looked very bad and it was eventually determined that First Lieutenant Richard Schroeppel was unable to be saved. Despite a valiant effort by everyone, he was gone for good.
The battle eventually ended with a decisive choice left to be made. They looked at his body and made a surprising move on the spot. The men “closed their eyes” and with a swift move strafed the lifeboat and fired a rocket into the boat saying their final goodbyes as the boat sank into the sea and out of sight. Lt. Jerome Yellin, a flight leader for Schroeppel, said “It was better this way,” since they wouldn’t let Schroeppel’s body sail towards the Japanese.
Glen Rock's Richard Henry Schroeppel did not survive his experience with the island of Chichi Jima the way Louis Zamperini and future President George Bush did.
Born: 1923 Glen Rock, New Jersey
Died: 1945 Chichi Jima, Japan