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Losing his voice and having to go visit a doctor wasn’t exactly what Columbus native and then 19-year-old Randy Schaefer envisioned for the start of his career in the Marine Corps. But, it happened.
Three months in, following two grueling and challenging ones, he was facing unfortunate circumstances. Schaefer was more than halfway through boot camp at Camp Pendleton, the Marine Corps’ training base in California, when he lost his voice on account of all the screaming going on.
“In the Marine Corps, you don’t talk to your drill sergeant, you yell at your drill sergeant. They tell you on day one the first word out of your mouth is sir and the last word out of your mouth is sir,” Schaefer recalled. “And you’re screaming – I mean really screaming.”
His superiors sent him to the doctor for an inspection after his voice gave out, and as he feared, it was shot. Making matters worse was that the medical professional told him not to speak for two weeks.
“That’s the wrong thing to tell someone in the Marine Corps,” Schaefer said, with a laugh. “Let’s just say that was the worst two weeks of my life. I was in trouble if I spoke to my sergeant and I was in trouble if I didn’t … I ended up whispering loudly.”
Schaefer didn’t let his lack-of-a-voice problem derail his plans. He was determined to prove wrong those back home who said he wouldn’t make it through boot camp and serve his country admirably.
“I never once thought about quitting – it was not even an option at that point,” he said. “One of the proudest moments for a Marine is when you graduate and your superior says, ‘Well done, Marine.’ He calls you a Marine after calling you just about everything else during boot camp, they break you down. Something just told me that I wasn’t going to quit.”
He managed to muscle his way through boot camp despite not having a voice, though still hears the effects of that decision to this day. Schaefer’s voice is a bit raspy, or as he calls it, “froggy.” So much so that he is affectionately known as “Wolfy” and “Wolfman Jack” by some of those who know him.
Schaefer is a father, grandfather, businessman, brother, son, friend, a longtime member of the American Legion Hartman Post 84 Honor Guard and a man of great faith. But he also takes equal pride in being a Marine, a U.S. veteran and a proud American.
“The Marine Corps proved to me that if I put my mind to it, there isn’t anything I can’t accomplish. I can do anything I want if I put my mind to it,” he said. “I just want to do the best I can for my community, my children, my grandchildren, my church and just for myself. We live in the greatest country in the world. We really do. I think our military does a great job. (President) Trump is doing a great job.”
Schaefer’s pride in his country and years serving it are certainly what shaped him and remain a big part of his life today.
GROWING UP IN COLUMBUS
Schaefer was one of eight kids, but early on it was just him, his parents, older brother, as well as his younger brother and sister, living on a ranch north of town. The Catholic family had horses and all of the kids were heavily involved with 4-H. Growing up in Columbus was highly enjoyable, he noted.
But of course, as Schaefer put it, boys were boys. The Schaefer boys were known for getting into a little mischief now and then, though nothing too serious. One such instance was the time he instigated a wrestling match with one of his brothers by tackling him down into a nearby creek.
“We were just playing around, but then we go back to the house to get changed and mom sees us soaking wet. We took our clothes off and we’re covered in all of these leeches, so she first gets all of the leeches off us and then we got a whooping for it. My brother was so mad at me,” Schaefer said. “My brother was saying, ‘why am I getting spanked mom? Randy did it.’ And she said, ‘you were there, too!’ It was hilarious.”
The older children all went to St. Bonaventure for elementary school, though transitioned to the public school system for junior high. At Columbus High School, Schaefer was an active member of the then-gymnastics and swim teams (his heart was more into diving).
He graduated in May 1974 and knew exactly what he wanted to do. Having watched dozens of John Wayne and war-inspired movies through the years, he wanted to join the Armed Forces.
“I just wanted to serve my country and the Marines were always the toughest guys around, so I wanted to be a Marine,” he said. “All my buddies said, ‘you’ll never make it. You’ll be back in two months.’ So I went in and I proved them wrong.”
HELLO, UNCLE SAM
Schaefer enlisted at age 18, a few weeks following high school graduation, but was told to report for boot camp toward the end of that year. The former prep athlete took pride in being in pretty good shape and physical, but acknowledged boot camp was like nothing he had experienced before.
“There is a lot of running in the field with your pack and all your gear - rain or shine it doesn’t matter. You’re crawling through the mud,” he said. “This is all just training.”
Losing his voice didn’t make things any easier, but that wasn’t even the worst part in his eyes. Schaefer said he wrote home telling his mother specifically to not send any sort of care packages. But mom being mom, she didn’t listen. She sent her son a package as a pleasant surprise, so she thought.
“Mom sent a bunch of goodies,” Schaefer said. “It was not a good thing. My sergeant accused me of writing home asking for them, but I didn’t.”
Despite no voice and having his superiors thinking he wrote home to his parents, Schaefer was resilient through the rest of boot camp and graduated.
“It was something I wanted to do and I was going to complete the task ahead of me come hell or high water,” he said. “But it was the toughest thing I have ever gone through.”
In the mid-1970s, Schaefer was among the many shipped out to Okinawa, a Japanese island in the East China Sea, for 13 months. Ironically, he would spend seven months on a ship while his brother, who was in the U.S. Navy, never had to live on one during his years of service.
Okinawa had a profound impact on the Columbus native. One particular encounter there remains vivid in his memory: The time he came across a family enjoying time together inside their small hut that really wasn’t much.
“There was this grass hut with dirt floors and they were happy. I can’t go without carpet on my floor and these guys have dirt and grass and were happy. It was just amazing,” he said. “So that’s when I knew. It wasn’t until I was walking through the foothills of Okinawa that I realized how spoiled or privileged we are as Americans.”
That 13-month tour brought Schaefer all over the Pacific, including to Guam, Thailand, Singapore, Hong Kong, the Philippines and across the equator to Indonesia at one point.
Schaefer was one who worked with rockets, starting out as an E-1 and moving on up to E-3 status by the time he was honorably discharged around Christmas 1978. He had been looking to get into the journalism side of the Marines if he re-upped, but there ended up not being an opportunity, and so he decided to move on. He finished his time in the Marines not having to be involved in combat, something he remains thankful for today.
“I saw a lot of countries, but I never saw any action. Praise God for that,” he said. “I just wanted to do what I could for my country.”
He’s classified as a Vietnam veteran by definition based on when he served, though he doesn’t put himself in that category.
“I have the utmost respect for every single one of those guys,” Schaefer said of Vietnam vets.
COMING BACK HOME
Since the end of his military career, Schaefer has remained busy and dominantly lived in Columbus. There was the one year he married a woman from Montana and lived up there before he returned to his hometown. His second marriage didn’t work out, but it did give him a new perspective as he found his faith again after falling away from it following high school.
“I believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord and Savior,” he affirmed. “My second wife introduced me to the Lutheran faith and I jumped in with both feet. That changed my way of thinking, my way of life, a lot.”
One year for his birthday his second wife gave him a copy of the Bible that he read cover to cover. He acknowledged he also read “cliff notes” afterward that helped him comprehend what he had read.
Schaefer attends Trinity Lutheran Church, where he helps usher and attends three Bible study groups regularly.
He’s also an avid golfer, playing at Quail Run and other area courses as much as he possibly can.
“I love to golf. I’m not that good at it, but I love to do it,” he said, with a big smile.
When on the links, Schaefer always recalls Will Smith’s character in the film “The Legend of Bagger Vance,” in which he says that golf is “a game that can’t be won, only played.” He doesn’t compete with others, but rather the course itself.
“I have a lot of fun with a lot of different guys,” he said. “I play golf with a lot of different guys and enjoy every single round of it.”
He also has four children from his two marriages, three sons and one daughter. Additionally, he has a handful of grandchildren who are undoubtedly his pride and joy.
“If I had known grandkids would be so much fun, I would have had them first,” he joked. “They are definitely a joy to be with and I love to be with them, so I love to spoil them. That’s my job, so that’s what I do.”
Over the years Schaefer has served as a volunteer fireman and coached some of his children’s baseball and swim teams, among other things. He did the latter as a way to carry on family tradition because his father coached some of his teams when he was growing up.
Since 2012, he has been a salesman for Columbus Carpet. He said the job has been quite rewarding, as he enjoys visiting with customers and seeing all of the various homes in town.
He’s a life member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, and for the last 10 years, has served as part of the Honor Guard for the American Legion Hartman Post 84. He called serving on the local Honor Guard a “tremendous honor” and something he doesn’t take lightly.
“He's a very dedicated member of the Honor Guard,” Honor Guard Sgt. Michael Landkamer said of Schaefer. “He’s also very caring.”
During the recent Memorial Day program in Columbus, Schaefer was all smiles as he helped with the presentation of the colors. Old Glory is essentially part of his DNA, so he’ll always have unwavering loyalty to his country and good memories of serving that will last a lifetime. One of those is when his ship’s trip to Australia was changed in 1976 when Typhoon Pamela hit Guam and they were diverted to help with clean-up efforts. It caused about $500 million in damage, according to published reports.
“It was devastating. I’ve never seen so many damaged trees, palm trees and coconut trees,” he recalled. “The whole island was just a mess.”
The Marines worked hard to help those in need and were eager for their superiors to make good on a promise of free beer.
“You tell a Marine, ‘you’ll get a beer at the end of it,’ and they’ll go through the fires of hell to get a beer,” Schaefer said, smirking.
They worked hard to clean things up and help those there, though the beer ended up not being as good as they all had hoped.
“They promised us a bunch of beer, but they failed to tell us there was no ice, that it was warm. They just said beer. So we were drinking all this warm beer,” Schaefer said, laughing. “But we were on a beach and they cooked a bunch of steaks for us. So it was all good.”
Matt Lindberg is the managing editor of The Columbus Telegram. Reach him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.