This morning, I was reading The Journal Gazette for Audio Reading Service, a service provided by the Allen County Public Library for the benefit of the visually impaired. My partner Mary and I finished local and national news and worked our way to the obituaries.
Today, there were six columns of obits that we alternated reading. She was reading her second column when she read the name Leo Scheer. I gave off a very noticeable gasp. When she finished, she slid the column my way, knowing it was something of consequence.
It sits next to me as I type. The marked-up, edited-for-radio obituary is a mere six lines, listing the basics of name, age, date of death and funeral home. Six lines. Leo Scheer was no six-line man.
I met Leo Scheer about three years ago, following a visit to the historical museum in Huntington. A display of World War II items caught my attention, especially the photo of a soldier holding a Nazi flag next to his friend holding a framed photo of Hitler. Spoils of war. That very flag was on display as well.
I discovered Leo was the donor (it was him holding the flag) and that he was alive and well in a nearby retirement center. I made my way there next, and Leo graciously shared the remainder of the afternoon with me.
Leo Scheer was a medic. On the dawn of June 6, 1944, he landed on Omaha Beach on the coast of Normandy. To say he landed is actually a disservice. Leo was in the first wave. The first of thousands of soldiers who would follow.
He was in the first of those who jumped into the water when the gates of their landing craft went down, the first to take that step knowing their chances of dying were greater than their chances of seeing another sunrise.
When he hit the water, he found himself next to a radio operator sinking beneath the waves under the weight of his bulky equipment. He stayed by his side while both made their way to shore. In waist-deep water, the splashes of machine gun bullets were making an arc toward the pair. It was then that Leo claimed the first of several angels appeared. For reasons he would never know, the bullets stopped just a few feet to their left.
On shore, Leo assumed his medic duties. He crawled along the shore behind minimal cover assisting the wounded. At one point, he came upon a shallow basement in which were three soldiers with serious wounds. Over the next two days, he made his way there as often as he could to change bandages and provide morphine. On his last visit, only one was alive.
When he wasn't administering aid, Scheer scoured the beach for much-needed supplies. Those bandages and medicines he could scavenge came from the utility belts of dead soldiers. It would be three long days, sleeping when possible in open-slit trenches, before the beach was secured.
But even then, the horror did not subside. Leo assisted in the retrieval of bodies from the countless tanks with insufficient flotation that sank to the bottom with their crews inside. When telling me this, he paused, caught his breath and said, “There are things I will never talk about.”
The next time I saw Leo, I came with my good friend Jim. Leo shared many of the same stories, then Jim and I, with the help of a map, did our best to determine where exactly Leo had been those three days in June of 1944. A month later, equipped with that information, Jim and I walked the sands of Omaha Beach in Normandy trying to pinpoint Leo's movements that day in 1944. It remains a powerful memory.
Those two visits, those few hours, were all that I saw of Leo Scheer, but they were not my last powerful encounter with the man. In June 2018, on a trip to New Orleans, I visited the impressive World War II Museum. I made my way to the European Theater wing and when I turned the corner to the D-Day exhibit, there, encased in glass, were the items Leo had said he had donated to the museum. There, under glass, was his utility belt with a few tools and the several pouches filled with the bandages and medicine taken off the belts of fallen soldiers.
I can't help but feel a bit saddened that this brief obituary, devoid of any reference to his courage, marks his departure from a country for which he willingly jumped when the gate went down. He deserves much better. No sir, Leo Scheer was no six-line man.
Mark D. Meyer is a Fort Wayne resident.