A “Letter to the Lost”
August 29, 2012
A “Letter to the Lost” written six years ago lead a Bowling Green, OH, Orthodontist to learn more about his uncle/godfather’s death 61 years ago in the Iron Triangle area of North Korea.
Wayne Michaelis (left) accepts photo of his uncle and godfather, Arthur A. Schwind, from Tom Thiel, who served with Art in Company E, 19th Regiment, 24th Infantry division.
They came to better understand the death of Wayne’s uncle and godfather, Arthur A. Schwind, on a Korean hill, July 8, 1951.
Art died immediately in a “friendly fire” incident as his rifle company, E 19th, was launching an attack on the Chinese People’s Volunteers; Tom was in the same column and witnessed the incident.
Wayne and Kaye Michaelis visited with Tom Thiel, 24th IDA Webmaster, at Tom’s home in Eustis, FL, on August 31, 2012.
Tom said that he and Art took basic training together at Camp Breckenridge, KY, and then traveled to Korea together. Both were assigned to Easy Company, 19th Infantry Regiment, 24th Infantry Division in April 1951.
Tom wrote the Letter to the Lost in 2006 in response to a request by Ted Barker of the Korean War Project (www.koreanwar.org/);in it, he said: “What’s more important is your (unfulfilled) life during those same 55 years, Art. The life that could have been if you had not been nearest that short-falling US artillery round on the fateful noon, July 8, 1951.
“I didn’t recognize you as the GI who had lost his life on one of our “jabs” into the Chinese Peoples Volunteers communist positions in the Iron Triangle. It was not until an hour or so later when your Sergeant Williams answered my question about that GI he lost that I realized it was my very good friend Art from Bowling Green.
“We took basic together, crossed the Pacific on the Mitchell together, went to Korea together on the Howze, and then to E Co, 19th! Art, Rudy and me from Basic to Company E; now it was only Rudy and me!**
“I was speechless, but not your Sergeant! He cursed everyone he could, especially those arguing over which chairs to sit in at the Peace Talks, which had just begun.
Photo A0490 51xx Art Schwind,E Company, 19th Regiment, 24th Infantry Division, July 4, 1951, in rest area in rear; photo by Thiel.
“Oh how your life might have been, Art. A wife there in Bowling Green. Children. A home. And now perhaps grandchildren. Or maybe even like me a great grandfather too! Probably they would have all been BGSU Falcons!
“But that was all taken from you 55 years ago in a faraway place called North Korea, in the Iron Triangle.”
Tom wrote five such letters. After sending them to the KWP, he wondered, “Why not try to reach the families?” So, he sent them to newspapers in the locales of “his Korean War KIA friends.”
As far as Tom knows, only the Sentinel-Tribune in Bowling Green, OH, carried his letter. That was on Veterans Day 2006, Saturday November 11.
Tom said on the following Sunday evening his phone rang. He noted it was an Ohio area code. He answered.
A female voice asked, “Did you write the article in the paper?”
“I live in Florida and do not know what article you are referring to,” he replied.
“An article about Art Schwind,”she said quite excitedly.
“I sent an article to the paper,” Tom said. “That’s probably what I wrote.”
“I am Art’s sister, Mary Michaelis,” she replied.“We have been wondering all these years how Art died. The military people did not explain it very well, and we’d like to know more.”
Mary and Tom talked for a while, and he sent her a letter with more details. Some time later, Art’s older brother called and he and Tom visited for a quite a while by phone.
Tom says that he had forgotten about his letters, but not his comrades who lost their lives, three as a part of Tom’s recoilless weapons section of E Company.
Then on August 29, 2012, another call came from area code 214 in NW Ohio. This time it was from Wayne and Kaye Michaelis, who had come to central Florida on a personal trip.
Wayne is of course Mary’s son. They came to try to get “real” answers to how Wayne’s uncle and godfather, Art, had died in the Land of the Morning Calm, that beautiful clear summer day in a grove of pine trees along a North Korean trail.
Tom explained that Art was singled out by the “gods of chance,” the falling of a short U.S. artillery round on July 8, 1951, as he walked in single file into combat against the Chinese Peoples Volunteers. Tom told them what he had seen from his position in the line behind where the shell fell. Then a few minutes later he walked by the spot where the body lay on the ground.
Tom says he truly hopes that his meeting with Wayne and Kaye will help to provide some degree of closure for Art’s family.
He says, “I know it helped and encouraged me beyond belief.”
For this Veterans Day, he plans to renew his efforts to contact the Zollman (MI), Spisco (OH), Pillon (NY), and Culler (NC) families again somehow through his ‘Letters to the Lost’ written six years ago. (But this was fruitless.)
** Tom wrote a similar "letter to the lost" to Rudy Spisco, Cleveland, KIA November 24, 1951. In it he said “Art, Rudy and me, from Basic to Company E; now it was only ME!”
Tom J. Thiel, E Company, 19th Regiment, 24th Infantry Division, Korea 1951-52, 19147 Park Place Blvd, Eustis, FL 32736 (originally from Upper Sandusky, OH)
Art Schwind,E Company, 19th Regiment, 24th Infantry Division, July 4, 1951, in rest area in rear; photo by Thiel.
The Taro Leaf, Vol 64(3) Summer 2010, pg.