Verlyn Schumacher’s hallway is lined with family portraits, and like many grandfathers, he shows them off with pride. His pride is especially obvious when he points out how many of his relatives are wearing military uniforms.
The 81-year-old Hays man served four years in the U.S. Air Force. His three brothers served in the Army, and many of Schumacher’s children, grandchildren and other descendants also went on to serve their country. The family has a combined total of 61 years of armed service.
“I’m real proud,” he said.
Schumacher’s neighbor was a recruiter for the Air Force, but it didn’t take persuading for him to know he wanted to enlist soon after high school.
“I was ready to go,” he said. “And I loved every place I was at.”
He completed his basic training in California, also spending time in Wyoming and Seattle before two years in Alaska. And from the icy cold climate of the far north, he was sent to his last deployment in Tampa, Fla.
“From one extreme to the other,” Schumacher said with a chuckle.
That was when he met his wife, Margaret, whose brother-in-law was serving with Schumacher in Tampa. The two married during his time on base in Florida.
“She was visiting her sister,” he said, “and we met. And that was it.”
The couple had three children and returned to Schumacher’s native Hays in 1965. Their son, Tom, served in the Navy for eight years — and the family tradition of military service has continued.
Schumacher’s granddaughter Ericka also served four years in the Navy, along with a grandson, Stephen, who spent 12 years on search and rescue missions in the Navy.
In fact, the two cousins were unexpectedly reunited when they were assigned to the same base in Pensacola, Fla., for a short time, Schumacher said. They found each other after hearing the names called out loud during morning formation.
“When he said ‘fallout,’ they started walking towards each other. And Stephen said, ‘Your mom’s name is Sharon?’ and Ericka said, ‘And your mom’s name is Patty?’ ” he said with a chuckle. “So they embraced each other. They hadn’t seen each other since they were 5 years old.”
Another grandson, Robert, also served four years in the Navy.
There are challenges that come with being a military family. Relatives have been scattered throughout several states, making get-togethers difficult.
There also is required secrecy — especially with some of grandson Stephen’s former assignments, Schumacher said. Stephen received an Air Medal bronze star decoration while serving in Basra, Iraq, as a Naval Aircrewman Second Class.
“I don’t know how many times he was deployed. He never would tell me,” Schumacher said. “In fact, I didn’t even know he was in Basra. ... I’d ask where were you guys, and he’d say, ‘Grandpa, I could tell you, but I’d have to kill you.’ ”
Schumacher’s brothers, uncle, a niece, and a grandson’s wife also spent years in military service.
His son, Tom, served in the first Gulf War. While Schumacher never was sent to battle, he faced a few tense situations. He still was living in Florida during the Cuba Missile Crisis, and was stationed less than an hour away from a Russian air base — in the thick of the Cold War — during his time in Alaska.
“There’s many times we slept with our MI right next to us,” Schumacher said.