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Front Page » February 16, 2006 » Senior Focus » An officer and his lady find a home
Published 3,135 days ago

An officer and his lady find a home


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By TOM McCOURT
Sun Advocate reporter

Pat and Wayne Scherschel.

Like many of the good citizens of the Castle Valley, Wayne Scherschel is an adopted son. He and wife Pricilla (Pat) moved here in early 1993 after a long and rewarding career of service to our nation. They were some of the first retirees to discover that Carbon County is a great place to spend those golden years. The climate is great here, the scenery unbeatable, real estate is reasonable, and the wide-open spaces are right outside the door. "We found a home here," Wayne says with a big smile.

Scherschel has an interesting past. He is one of those quiet, unassuming, almost unknown, and almost forgotten, members of the armed forces who worked behind the scenes to protect us from the Russian bombers and missiles that never came during the cold war.

As an Army Sergeant, Scherschel participated in a shooting war too. He was on the DMZ in Korea, serving with a 105mm artillery battery, when the truce was signed that ended the Korean conflict in1953. He had joined the Illinois National Guard at the age of 18.

Scherschel was born and raised in Rapids City, Ill. a small town of about 100 people. Rapids City is a few miles north of Moline, Ill. Wayne lived a Tom Sawyer-like childhood there along the mighty Mississippi River in the 1930s and '40s.

Wayne wanted to be a soldier at an early age, and he says the reason he joined the National Guard at the age of 18, is because his mother wouldn't sign to let him join when he was 17. He signed the papers and took a soldier's oath in 1949, right after his 18th birthday.

Wayne Scherschel as an Army Warrant Officer in 1966.

Scherschel's National Guard unit was activated for service during the Korean War. The unit went through an intensive training program in California and Washington State, and then received orders to deploy to Korea on Christmas Eve, 1952.

His unit entered the combat zone in January, 1953. They disembarked at Inchon, the site of the famous amphibious landing earlier in the war. There were no port facilities at Inchon, and Scherschel's unit went ashore in landing craft. His artillery unit was attached to the First Commonwealth Division, an English unit under the command of a United Nations General.

Scherschel was a young PFC when his unit was activated. He tells that he was already a good artillery soldier, and some of the training was redundant and boring to him. One of the instructors, an officer, caught him daydreaming during a lecture and tried to humiliate him in front of the group. He told the young private to step out front and Lay (orient) the gun battery along a pre-determined compass azimuth.

The officer then went back to his lecture for a while, leaving the young private to suffer in humiliation, or so he thought. Within just a few minutes, Scherschel reported that he had completed the task. Very surprised, the officer checked the young soldier's work and found that he had indeed oriented the battery perfectly, a task usually performed by officers and top sergeants.

After that, Scherschel went from PFC to sergeant in 90 days and ended up in command of his own gun and gun crew.

Scherschel's 105mm artillery battery served front line duty in Korea from January through July 1953. The war ended on July 27 with a signed truce that split the country into North and South Korea forever. He says that his gun fired some of the last shells of the Korean War. "We kept shooting right up until the truce went into effect at 10 o'clock that night," he says, "and then we stopped and waited to see if they (the North Koreans) would stop too." They did. The war was over.

Wayne Scherschel holds a commemorative plaque and medallion presented for his service with NASA and the Skylab project in the early 1970s.

The young sergeant went home to the states in December 1953 and was discharged from the Army. He hung around his old hometown for a couple of weeks, couldn't find a job, and so he decided to re-enlist. He went to Chicago and talked a recruiter into re-instating him at his former rank and MOS (military occupational specialty). He was assigned to a 90mm anti-aircraft battery stationed on the outskirts of Chicago.

Most people never knew that American cities were protected with anti-aircraft artillery during the cold war. The missile industry was still in its infancy in the early 1950s, and the threat of Soviet bombers was very real. The military was very discrete, but rings of air defense installations protected major transportation and industrial centers throughout the country. Several important sites are still afforded that protection today in the form of anti-aircraft missiles.

Scherschel says it gets cold in Chicago in the wintertime. His duty station was an anti-aircraft gun that was exposed to the wind and snow. He said he was envious of the radar guys who had a nice warm bunker or trailer to stay in while they watched their radar screens. Being an enterprising young soldier, he volunteered for radar school.

After graduating from radar school, Scherschel was again assigned to the air defense of Chicago. But this time, sergeant Scherschel had a place in the radar bunker out of the wet and cold. Nike missile batteries replaced the anti-aircraft guns around Chicago in 1956.

It was in 1956 when Scherschel met Pricilla (Pat) Vyhnanek at a civilian radio station. He was there as a guest of the station engineer when she brought donuts and coffee as a bribe to coax a DJ to play a favorite song. Pat was an operating room nurse who worked in nearby Brookfield Ill. They were married later that same year, just in time for Wayne to be sent to Germany with his air defense unit. They were able to go together, and they spent the first three years of their marriage in Germany. They would have two children together, a son and a daughter. Pat continued to work as a nurse throughout their military career, and until they retired.

In Germany, Scherschel worked as a radar technician for both 90mm anti-aircraft artillery guns and Nike Ajax missiles. On one occasion, his missile unit was flown from Germany to White Sands, N. M. for testing, and was rated as the number one air defense unit in the United States Army.

The young couple returned to the states in 1959 and Wayne was assigned to be a National Guard advisor in Massachusetts. After a year in Massachusetts, he went to the Nike Hercules Missile School and graduated with honors. He was then assigned to teach electronics to foreign Army officers at Ft. Bliss, Texas. He stayed there until 1966.

In 1966, Scherschel was a Sergeant First-Class, working with the integrated flight control systems for Nike Hercules anti-aircraft missiles. As a master technician, he applied for the Warrant Officer Technical School at Ft. Bliss, and was accepted. He was commissioned a Warrant Officer, "and a gentleman," he says with a big smile, in November 1966. He says that Warrant Officer is the best rank in the U.S. Army.

The new Warrant Officer was assigned to a Korean advisory group sent to teach the South Koreans how to shoot the new Hawk anti-aircraft missile systems. The team worked out of Pusan, South Korea, for two years. While they were in Korea, Pat worked as a volunteer at a Korean hospital and taught English to Korean Army officers one day each week at the Korean Military Academy.

Wayne retired from the Army in October 1972 and went to work for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). He was a member of the ground crew for the Skylab project of the early 1970s. Skylab was America's first space station. His duty station was a radar-tracking site near Corpus Christy, Texas.

Wife Pat proudly pins on Wayne's Warrant Officer bars at the presentation ceremony in 1966.

Skylab was launched in May 1973 and functioned until February 1974. Three different teams of astronauts worked in the space station during that time period. Skylab was abandoned in 1974 and burned up re-entering the atmosphere in 1979. As an important member of the space station project, Scherschel was presented with a commemorative medallion made from salvaged metal taken from Skylab by the last group of astronauts to work there.

After completing the Skylab project with NASA, Scherschel decided to go to college to improve his chances for promotions within the organization. He was in his mid-40s, and enrolled at the University of Texas at El Paso. He was taking a radar refraction course when his instructor mentioned that a very technical and expensive piece of equipment was broken and could not be used in the course. Scherschel asked if he could take a look, and was given permission. He was able to fix the machine in just a few minutes, and the college soon hired him as an electronics expert. He worked for UTEP for the next 10 years.

While living in El Paso and working for UTEP, Wayne moonlighted as a customs inspector at the U.S./Mexican border between El Paso and Juarez.

In 1984 the Scherschels retired, bought an Airstream trailer and a pickup truck, and hit the road. They toured the country for a while, and then settled in as volunteer workers at the Flaming Gorge national recreation area in northeastern Utah. While there, they worked under the direction of the US forest service. They fell in love with the great state of Utah, and worked as volunteers at Flaming Gorge for six years.

Both Wayne and Pat have had trouble with asthma, and a doctor told them that there was no better climate for asthmatics than the high desert of southern Utah. They tested the climate and the real estate market in St. George, and decided not to go there. They moved to Green River in 1992, and began exploring the Castle Valley for a place to call home. They found that place in Helper, and moved there in 1993.

Over the past 13 years, the Scherschels have become pillars of the community. They are active in church and civic organizations, and Wayne serves as a member of the color guard for the American Legion veteran's organization. The color guard provides a military service at the funerals of veterans.

The Scherschels have served as forest service volunteers at the Stewart Guard Station in Huntington Canyon, as volunteers for the Utah Department of Wildlife Resources, and as volunteers for the Travel Council.

In 2002, the United Way and the Community Volunteer Center of Southeastern Utah, presented a Community Leader Award to the Scherschels. The award was given as recognition and appreciation of the many hours of volunteer work the couple has selflessly donated to the community.

They have traveled and seen most of the world, but the Scherschels have chosen to make Castle Valley their home. They have come to love the landscape, the people, and the high desert climate. "We go back to Illinois to visit once in a while," Wayne says, "and we tell people there that they don't know what they are missing by not living in Utah. We love this place."


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