For 68 years, the family of PFC Arthur Louis Schoelman Jr. kept a tan parcel post box in their home. Everyone in the Schoelman family knew exactly how it got there, but they never quite understood why it was there. And, to whom did the box's contents belong to?
Schoeleman, (LEFT) a native of Texas, was born in 1925 as the oldest of eight children of Arthur Louis Schoelman and his bride, Opal Elizabeth Jones. Before Arthur enlisted in the Army in June 1943 after his 18th birthday, he worked in a local gas station. By Christmas 1943, Arthur found himself in the volcanic islands of the South Pacific as a member of the 169th Infantry Regiment of the 43rd Infantry Division.
On the last day of January 1945, Arthur was mortally wounded when a tree, struck by a mortar, exploded, sending a deadly shrapnel missile into his back. Schoelman died the next day at a hospital of the 118th Medical Battalion. His mortal remains lie in a green field covered with white crosses in Grave 96 of the 11th row of Plot F in the American Memorial Cemetery in Manilla, Philippines.
One might think that the story of Private First Class Arthur Schoelman, Jr. ended with his burial. In fact, nearly seven decades later, Arthur's story is now being told again.
Members of the Clearing Company unit, assigned to such matters, gathered his belongings, or so they thought, and shipped them off to the War Department's Personal Effects Bureau, Kansas City Quatermaster's Depot in Kansas City. There, a clerk took a bundle of belongings and placed them inside a 9-by-13-by-3 inch cardboard Crook Paper Box Company box and sent them to Mr. Arthur L. Schoelman at his home on West 34th Street in Houston.
When the box arrived, the Schoelmans knew what was inside - it was clearly typed on an official army label, "Pfc. Arthur L. Schoelman, Jr. ASN 38549214, Case No. 451966." As they opened the box, they found a 48-star casket flag, together with an official government publication containing instructions on the proper use and display of the flag along with the words of "The Pledge of Allegiance." Printed right on the inside of the booklet was a highly impersonal form letter from The Administrator of the Veteran's Administration conveying the deepest sympathy of the country "for the bereavement caused by the death of the veteran."
Wrapped inside the banner of red, white and blue, there was an assortment of personal belongings. One by one, the Schoelmans tentatively looked through the box, looking for something that belonged to their son. Very soon, Arthur's puzzled, grieving parents decided that the contents of the box did not belong to their son, but to some other poor soul who had lost his life in the war.
Something deep in the soul of Opal Schoelman told the Texas housewife to hold on to the box. One day, maybe some day, the Army would discover the mistake and the effects would be rightfully returned to the family of another lost, all too young soldier. Certainly she believed that in her care they would have a better chance of finding their way back home than in the care of the corps of clerks who could easily once again mislay the once opened box.
Nearly 20 years elapsed before the senior Arthur Schoelman died in 1964. Opal held on to the box until she died in 1980.
The package was passed along to Opal's daughter, Dolores Wicker, who was only 13 years-old when her dear brother Arthur was killed a world away in the Pacific. For more than three decades, Dolores kept the aging box, still bound together with its original tape and marked with its original labels and postal marks.
When Delores died on March 14, 2012, her daughter Renee Leslie began going through her mother's possessions. Renee had long known the story of the mysterious box, but her desire to find the family of the dead soldier was stronger than ever.
Renee logged on to the Internet and searched Google and ancestry.com for clues as to the identity of the missing man. She found a hand-written name and an army serial number pasted on a darkened label inside a glasses case, containing the mystery man's eye glasses. After a thorough search, Arthur's niece Renee found the location of the grave Charles L. Taylor, who was buried in the cemetery of Oconee Baptist Church at the northern tip of Laurens County just inside the Wilkinson County line.
Charles L. Taylor, who went by his middle name of Lamar, was also a member of Company B, 169th Regiment, 43rd Division. Taylor, a son of Eli and Nona Dominy Taylor born on Feb. 1, 1920, grew up in hard times - his father died when he was four. Lamar entered the service on May 15, 1942 at Fort McPherson near Atlanta. He trained at Camp Shelby, Miss. before going overseas where he served in New Zealand, New Caledonia, New Guinea and Luzon.
On Jan. 9 1945, the division conducted an amphibious landing in the San Fabian area, Lingayen Gulf, Luzon. Sgt. Taylor was killed in heavy fighting five days later on Jan. 14.
Renee Leslie and her cousin, Rebekka Barker, thought that since Taylor was buried in a small church cemetery, there would still be relatives in the area or attending the church. So, Renee wrote to the church, "This letter may seem a bit strange, but please bear with me," as she proceeded to briefly explain the story of how her family came to possess Taylor's effects and their efforts to find surviving members of his family. When the church received the letter, they put Leslie in contact with Brenda Taylor Holloway, a niece of Taylor, who received the package on behalf of the sergeant after all this time.
Brenda, who was born a year or so after her uncle died, still lives in the area, but knew very little about her uncle Charles, known to his friends as "Little Doc." She had heard the stories about her uncle and how he was killed in that now distant war.
As Brenda carefully opened the package, the discovery process began. Inside, there was a trove of personal mementos; a wallet filled with pictures of his mother, his sisters, his army buddies and a sweetheart or two - the usual photo collection of an American GI. A Good Conduct medal, an Asiatic-Pacific medal and the badge of a combat infantryman which once adorned the dress uniform of Sgt. Taylor were inside as well. A small leather craft clip, once a part of his combat gear, was placed inside Sgt. Taylor's moth-eaten dress hat, complete with a rain cover. Two panoramic photos of Taylor's unit, Company B, were neatly rolled up in the package, one marked "Send to Dock" and the other "The Boys of Company B taken in New Zealand."
And the flag that was intended for her Arthur Schoelman's casket, but never sent to Nona Taylor was there too. On this Memorial Day, that flag will momentarily fly in front of the Dublin Laurens Museum as a tribute to the memory of Arthur Louis Schoelman, Jr. and Charles Lamar Taylor and our country's continuing gratitude of their service to the country.
To all of our fallen heroes, simply sleep in peace, for we'll be here in sunshine and shadow until ye come back when summer is in the meadow.