Ted Schalk: kamikaze survivor
The Poplar Bluff Museum tell many unknown tales of our community. I want to tell you some of those hidden tales found within the museum walls.
Ted Schalk was already a veteran of Iwo Jima. He was a torpedoman on the destroyer USS Little DD 803. His ship provided naval gunfire to the Marines on the beach. He witnessed the flag raising on Mt. Suribachi. After Iwo Jima the USS Little was part of the largest task force in history. The invasion of Okinawa was larger than D-Day. Ted’s ship provided screening for the task force, feigning false landings, escorting the landing boats and conducting picket duty outside the naval perimeter.
On May 3, 1945, the radar operator warned the ship that 30 kamikaze planes were inbound to their location. Schalk was at his general quarters station on the torpedo deck when the first plane struck the ship. He ran to the bow and hit the deck when a second plane strafed the ship with machine gun fire. That plane then struck the ship next to Schalk. The wing actually struck him in the arm, neck and head, exposing bone from his wound. The resulting fire on the ship burned Schalk on his left shoulder.
With guns blazing, the USS Little shot down a third kamikaze plane heading for the ship. Swarmed by suicide planes, two more kamikazes plowed into the ship minutes later. One struck Schalk’s duty station, the torpedo deck. The USS Little was going down. It was on fire and breaking up. In less than five minutes the USS Little was lost and 30 men with her. Two shipmates put a life jacket on Schalk and threw him overboard. While in the water, two depth charges exploded from the sinking ship and the Japanese planes began strafing them in the water. When Schalk got to a life raft it was so crowded he could only hang onto the side. While in the water, Schalk witnessed a second ship go down from kamikaze attacks.
Schalk was in the water for six hours. He couldn’t even climb on board the rescue ship. Schalk had to be lifted in a rescue basket. He was not expected to survive.
Ted Schalk’s war was over. After a year in naval hospitals, he returned to Poplar Bluff. Among his many occupations, Schalk became a rural mail carrier for 30 years. Burdened with physical and emotional scars from May 3, he was comforted by his large family and seeing his shipmates at USS Little reunions. Ted Schalk is a survivor of our Greatest Generation. All we have to give him in return is a Purple Heart.
Butler County fought hard at the battle of Okinawa. Bill Hicks was killed when the Japanese bombed the USS Wasp, Fred Carr was wounded on Hacksaw Ridge, and Bill Hogg was launching aircraft off the USS Bennington.
The Daily American Republic article about Ted Schalk, written by David Silverberg, is on display in the World War II exhibit of Kanell Hall Veterans Museum, located in the Poplar Bluff Museum. His photo is also on display in the Museum’s “Hall of Heroes.” Bill Hicks’ uniform is also on display along with Bill Hogg’s leather flight jacket.
The Museum is handicap accessible and open free of charge Sunday 1-4 p.m. at 1010 Main Street. Tell them Mike sent you.
Mike Shane is a veteran, Poplar Bluff resident and board member for the Poplar Bluff Museum.
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