“The Coldest Winter I Ever Saw”
For 97 year old Eldie Scheffel, the time he spent on the Aleutian Islands was the coldest he’d ever been before or since. He was part of the Army’s 7th Infantry sent to rid the island of occupied Japanese in 1943. The islands, part of the Alaskan territory, were critical to Pacific supply routes for both Japan and the United States. Eldie said he stayed in a “two man fox hole on a cliff overlooking the bay”. Their job was to watch for enemy soldiers still left on the island after the invasion. His unit narrowly averted disaster on the way to the island as their ship was fired on by a Japanese submarine but missed both the front and back of the ship. Eldie would spend over a year on the islands. With temperatures reaching -59 degrees, he noted that you would “turn blue before you could finish taking a shower.”
Eldie was drafted into the Army 52 days after the attack on Pearl Harbor on January 18, 1942. He would spent 13 weeks in basic training in Ft. Robinson, California with many of them spent being a calisthenics instructor. He finally asked his sergeant for a transfer which he denied. He finally went to a colonel who granted him a transfer to Ft. Benning, Georgia where he would begin infantry training and continued as a calisthenics instructor. Towards the end of his “3 years, 9 months and 4 days” of service, Eldie was once again stationed at Ft. Benning when the news came on April 12, 1945 that President Franklin Roosevelt had died at the so-called Little White House in Warm Springs, Georgia. He was selected to be one of the soldiers who escorted the president’s body to the train station. Eldie left the service on November 1, 1945. He said that the military “helped him to appreciate life and discipline.”
Heartwarmingly, upon first meeting and any time one speaks with Eldie W. Scheffel, the sparkle in his bright blue eyes is evidence of many adventures well-lived. He beams as he tells of his first memories of the two room school house in Prairie View where he fell in “puppy love” with his first crush, Maureen, describing the color of her hair and eyes, and confesses to a few childhood pranks he took part in (we will refrain from going into detail here, to protect the innocent.) When asked what he wanted to be when he grew up, he states, “Not a President. I wanted to go back and buy me a farm.” His parents, Gustav William and Wallie Rose Miel were farmers and he grew up with six siblings, him being number five. Eldie grew up being a farmer. He noted that “dad was a dirt farmer and that they family was dirt poor.” During the depression, most folks were dirt poor. Eldie wanted to continue his education, but by the end of the 7th grade, he was “working from sunup to sundown and had no time to go to school.” After the service, he trained as a carpenter, and loved working with wood.
Eldie fortified his inner strength over the years as he learned to endure the dreary foxholes during his military service, and to handle the challenges later in life, from losing one of his sons at age 62, and supporting and eventually outliving both of his wives as they faced life-limiting illnesses. He was married to Anne Merle Ratliff for 24 years and to Odessa Marie Houx for 40 years.
His favorite secular song is “The Yellow Rose of Texas” and he likes the gospel song “When the Roll is Called Up Yonder”. He is a huge Miranda Lambert fan and is very verbal about his following her life and career for years. His family has saved her picture to his phone’s home screen, and he calls her his “girlfriend, but she don’t know it yet.”
He heard about the Honor Flight from his daughter Barbara McFarlin, who accompanied him as his Guardian on the “trip of a lifetime.” Special thanks to Barbara who was on the phone from Arkansas during our interview.
Respectfully submitted by
Katherine McLamore and Larry Williams
Veterans Liaison Co-Chairs
Texas South Plains Honor Flight