So you’ve heard about the cat with nine lives. Well, let me tell you about Hans Schultze, a former Marine who has cheated death seven times – twice as a civilian; five as a Marine.
Whoever said, “You can’t keep a good man down,” must have had 83-year-old Hans in mind. The longtime Independence resident stumbled down the basement stairs in his home on March 25, suffering what his family calls a “hangman’s fracture” to his neck.
Given little chance to survive, Hans proved his doctors wrong. As the family was making funeral arrangements, Hans’ health began to improve and his burial plans were scrubbed.
“I survived it,” says Hans, who has no paralysis from the fall and uses his walker to navigate in his modest home, where he lives with his wife, Aldine.
Death escapes began early for Hans. As an 18-year-old, the Concordia, Mo., native received the jolt of his young life from a lightning bolt that struck him inside a Lockwood, Mo., shed where he had taken refuge from a thunderstorm.
“It ripped my shirt front and back,” he says of the strike, which caused “church bells to ring and the hair on his chest to stand up.”
With the lightning strike behind him, young Hans wondered what was ahead of him as he entered the Marine Corps in December 1943 – three months after his 18th birthday.
As World War II raged throughout Europe and the South Pacific, Hans anxiously waited to get into the fray. His wait, though, was a short one, even though he came down with rheumatic fever.
While recovering from this illness following basic training, an impatient Hans asked to be released from a military rest camp so he could join his outfit.
“Get me out of here,” he insisted. And he got his wish some two or three weeks later when he sailed to Guam with the 3rd Marine Division.
“We got in on the invasion of Guam,” Hans says, recalling he was on the South Pacific island for 20 months before sailing to his next battle station – Iwo Jima – where some of the fiercest fighting in the Pacific Theater occurred.
The 3rd Marine Division, which had been held in reserve, joined the fighting on the fifth day of the 35-day battle, which erupted Feb. 19, 1945, when the 4th and 5th Marine Divisions assaulted the heavily fortified island with its many bunkers, hidden artillery and 11 miles of underground tunnels.
Having escaped injury on Guam, Hans was hoping for the same on Iwo as he waded ashore with dead bodies, carnage and destruction on all sides of him.
Would the rifleman and “company runner” be as lucky on Iwo as he was on Guam?
As it turned out, his luck held out. He was not wounded; however, he had four close calls on the ash-covered island.
“I always thank the good Lord,” he says, for saving my life, because “I could be laying in a grave someplace.”
Hans says he’d only been on Iwo about a week when a prayer book in the left chest pocket of his jacket stopped a Japanese bullet from piercing his body.
“I got shot through the prayer book and it just nicked my skin,” Hans says, adding that if it hadn’t been for the little black book, “I probably would be dead. … It’s something I’ll never forget.”
Neither will Hans forget the night that his alertness and bravery not only saved his life, but that of his sleeping foxhole companion. Two English-speaking Japanese soldiers lunged at Hans after stumbling across the foxhole that he was in.
“I got (one) with my bayonet and pushed him off and then another one came and I got him with my (.45 caliber) pistol,” he says, explaining, “That’s a case where you hate to kill. If I hadn’t killed them, they would have killed me.”
Hans remembered another kill-or-be-killed experience involving him and a Marine captain who took refuge in one of Iwo’s many caves.
Expecting to be alone in the cavern, the two Marines were startled when they saw a pair of eyes coming at them out of the darkness, their owner swinging a Samurai sword.
“He cut both our packs off our back,” Hans recalls, and cut the captain across his buttock. Before the swordsman could inflict more slashes, “The captain pulled his .45 out and killed him.”
A mistake Hans made while directing tanks into position resulted in him being fired upon by both the Japanese and his own men.
Hans admits wandering too far away from the tanks, thus exposing himself to the enemy only 50 yards away. As the Japanese fired at him, the Marines also shot at Hans believing he was an enemy.
With bullets seeming to come from all directions, Hans jumped into a shallow foxhole and remained there for 36 hours before firing a shot into the air and running safely toward his comrades.
“That’s something I’ll remember, because I should have been dead, because those bullets – I can just see them going over my head – especially at night with those tracers.”
Looking back on his Iwo experiences, Hans says he has much for which to be thankful. Of the 201 men in his rifle company that went ashore and joined 125 replacements, “I was one of only 18 men who returned to Guam unscathed.”
World War II was much kinder to Hans than the short time he spent in Korea as a reservist with the 1st Marine Division. After being on the peninsula less than three months, he was wounded March 11, 1951, defending a 200-foot hill from a night attack by North Korean and Chinese forces.
Having been warned by forward observers of an impeding attack, the Communist forces came up the hill 2 minutes before midnight playing an American favorite: “When the Saints Come Marching In.”
“We got most of them,” Hans says of the attackers, “because you could not miss them because there were so many of them coming up the hill that wasn’t that big.”
The Marines, though, didn’t get them all. Numerous grenades were hurled in Hans’ direction.
“I think I got hit by six or eight grenades in the head. I lost a (right) eye and got hit across both legs,” says the Purple Heart recipient, who still carries three pieces of shrapnel in his left eye.
Semper fi, Sergeant Schulze.