Coon Rapids man earns place in French Legion of Honor

When the world went to war, life for Americans living, working and raising families in the United States was forever changed. The Dec. 7, 1941, Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor shattered families’ plans, sent patriots racing to the front lines and meant young men suddenly carried the weight of the nation’s freedoms on their shoulders.

Standing in front of a wall of certificates and awards bestowed on him for his service during World War II, Coon Rapids resident Jack Schramm holds the medal awarded him when he was named a Knight of the French Legion of Honor for his “valorous action during World War II.” Photos by Sue Austreng

Standing in front of a wall of certificates and awards bestowed on him for his service during World War II, Coon Rapids resident Jack Schramm holds the medal awarded him when he was named a Knight of the French Legion of Honor for his “valorous action during World War II.” Photos by Sue Austreng

On March 30, 1942, 22-year-old Jack Schramm worked alongside his father, selling groceries in the family’s Lake Street grocery store.

On March 31, 1942, Schramm was drafted into the U.S. Army.

“I would have rather stayed at home and worked with my dad, but I was drafted, so I didn’t have that choice,” said Schramm, now a resident of Coon Rapids.

Determined to do his job well, Schramm threw himself into his role with Company F, 359th Regiment, 90th Infantry Division during the Normandy Invasion.

Invading Utah Beach – the westernmost beach of the five landing areas of the Normandy Invasion – Schramm was on the USS Susan B. Anthony.

“Our regiment had to get back on ground again (the day after the June 6 invasion) and at 7 a.m. we were ready to go over the side of the ship and onto the beach when the ship hit a mine. We’re all below deck and the ship is sinking. … Then ‘Drop your gear and get on deck.’ It didn’t take long for me to get up there,” Schramm said.

Soon a British destroyer pulled up to rescue the regiment and by nightfall Company F was all together.

“There were 2,500 infantrymen on the Susan B. Anthony. Everyone survived,”
Schramm said.

Serving under Gen. George Patton, Schramm was one of “Patton’s Iron Men” and earned many awards and certificates during his three years, seven months and nine days of service.

Among those are a Purple Heart, a Bronze Star and a Combat Infantry Badge.

Most recently, Schramm was named a Knight of the French Legion of Honor for his “valorous action during World War II,” as stated on a letter sent from the Consulate General of France in Chicago with the medal.

“My fellow countrymen will never forget your sacrifice,” the letter states. “(To name you Knight of the Legion of Honor) is a sign of true gratitude for your invaluable contribution to the liberation of France during those difficult times in the history of our nation.”

Schramm recalled the tale of the injuries he endured during battle.

He and his fellow infantrymen were on their way to Paris as the Germans started bombing.

“They kept bombing and bombing, and replacements came in by the truckload,” Schramm said.

And then, as the troops approached the Seine River, “we got up against four German tanks.”

“They were having a great time firing at us,” Schramm said, a wry smile stretched across his face.

During the attack, shrapnel from artillery pieces lodged into Schramm’s neck and back.

“That was 2 p.m. July 26. At 7 p.m. they picked me up to take me to the regimental hospital. Got bandaged up and then went to the 102nd field hospital in England. I was in hospital July to November then came back to the U.S. on the U.S. Army Hospital Ship. Then I was in the Chicago hospital, then home to Minneapolis for Christmas,” the 94-year-old World War II veteran said, remembering his wartime experiences in vivid detail.

Once his recovery was complete, Schramm served in Hot Springs, Arkansas, and then at Camp Claiborne, Louisiana, before his honorable discharge on Nov. 9, 1945.

Home again, Schramm finally got back to work with his dad at the grocery store.

After working there for a few years Schramm got married and ran a deli for three or four years and eventually bought a grocery store in Lake Crystal and ran that for seven years.

During the following 21 years of his civilian life, Schramm worked for three different food brokers before retiring in 1984.

The World War II veteran is a life member of the Disabled American Veterans and the Veterans of Foreign Wars and still belongs to the American Legion in Lake Crystal.

Schramm exhibits pride in his service with a wall of framed certificates and commendations on display in his Coon Rapids home, and he offers this advice to young people considering service in the military.

“I think serving is a good experience. It gets you away from your mother doing everything, teaches you to take care of yourself, makes you stronger. It’s good,” he said.

Sue Austreng is at sue.austreng@ecm-inc.com

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