Join the Navy and see the world was the recruiting slogan for the U.S. Navy in the early 1950s. For Camdenton area resident Gene Scheiter, it was a promise kept. Signing up for the Navy in August 1953 took the young man from the quiet peace of the Midwest to the skies over Europe and North Africa and missions along the Vietnamese coast as well patrols along the coasts of the United States during the Cold War.
Born and raised in Quincy, Ill., Gene graduated from high school there in 1951. The day after he got out of high school, his family moved to Hannibal where he attended community at Hannibal Lagrange.
In the spring of 1953, the nation was at war - or at least in conflict - with the United States committed to military intervention in the Korean peninsula through the United Nations Security Council.
Gene had been up in an airplane just one time when a Navy recruiter showed him pictures of their planes and said that Gene could become a pilot in the Navy with just two years of college. Requirements had slackened from four years of college with demand caused by the war.
Whatever the case, it sounded great to Gene. He first got interested in the Navy through an uncle who was in the Navy before World War II.
The uncle was an old time submariner - spending 22 of his 33 years in the Navy aboard submarines - and he brought back stories of the world when he came to visit his family in Quincy.
Gene signed on with the Navy in St. Louis and reported for active duty after receiving his associates degree.
The Korean War would be over before Gene got his wings - ending just a few months after his first visits with the recruiter.
Gene reported to Pensacola, Fla. for training in August 1953.
As a student, he was started out on an SNJ, or what the Air Force called an AT6. The single engine trainer held two people with the student in front and a sliding glass canopy over the top of the seats.
In a class of 50, instructors said a third of the cadets wouldn't make it, but Gene caught on just fine.
He earned his wings after a year at Pensacola, which included six carrier landings in the Gulf of Mexico, and then another four months at the now-closed Hutchinson Naval Air Base in Kansas, learning about multi-engine flying.
After getting his wings and commission, he was assigned to a patrol squadron in Jacksonville, Fla.
The squadron was rotationally deployed to North Africa and Mediterranean Europe in five month stints. They would then be back at base for 10 months so that they were deployed about a third of the time.
Page 2 of 4 - At that time, Gene was flying a P2V Neptune which had two reciprocating engines and a 100 foot wing span. Later, the military would put jet engines on the wings as well to give the plane more support for take off and emergencies as they loaded it with more gear.
Gene was on the verge of being deployed to Iceland once but was sent back to North Africa instead because of his past experience there.
He had already received his cold weather survival suit - poopy suits as the pilots jokingly called them. Gene made sure to send a photo of himself in his poopy suit sitting under a palm tree in North Africa to his friends in Iceland.
Along with the humor, the squadron conducted serious business, flying patrols along the coasts to detect Russian submarines.
"The main thing we concerned with then was Russian submarines. Submarines were the secret way to travel back then. They could get close to the shore of an opposing country and launch missiles from off shore and go under and you'd never know where they went. As far I know, they never got that close to our shoreline, but we had to be prepared for them," Gene says.
Gene and the other pilots trained to attack submarines if necessary. The planes had torpedoes under their wings. The pilots were to fly up then dive down to fire on the submarines with the missiles in what was called a "rocket run."
The pilots had to log many hours of training, but could take weekend flights as part of training.
In a practice flight up to Chicago then over to St. Louis to meet his girlfriend for a visit, Gene did a rocket run over her and her parents' home near Hannibal, pulled out of the dive over the Mississippi River, then fired his jets and screamed the plane up Broadway St. in Hannibal at 1,000 feet - only to find out later that she and her parents were already in St. Louis. He says worried for a month that he would be reported and get court-martialed.
"That's one of those stupid things that young people do," laughs Gene.
But at the end of his four year enlistment, Gene married his sweetheart from Hannibal. He and Margaret planned for him to get out of the Navy and go back to college in Rolla, Mo. She and her parents had already found an apartment for the couple, but at the last, Gene decided he really liked what he was doing. After talking it over in a phone call from a separation station in Norfolk, Va., Gene decided to stay in. He and Margaret got married and he was able to get a year of shore duty.
Page 3 of 4 - Gene ended up as an instructor at the Hutchison base in Kansas. When the base closed, he was transferred to Washington, D.C. where they stayed for six years.
The couple moved to California when Gene was stationed with another squadron at a base in the San Francisco area.
In the 1960s, Gene transititioned to the P3 Orion, a jet propellor engine plane which could fly much higher than the Neptune.
The conflict in Vietnam was heating up then. And in 1965, Gene was deployed to The Philippines on a 48 hour notice.
From the U.S. base there, he flew patrols along the Vietnamese coast, locating ships potentially sending supplies from the North Vietnamese to their troops in the south. When possible enemy ships were spotted, the pilots radioed the information to Navy ships in the area which would then intercept the ships and check them.
Flying at a low altitude of 250 along the coast to be able to spot the ships, the squadron planes were sometimes fired upon by enemy ships.
As far he knows, Gene's plane was never shot at, and if it was, they missed.
Stationed in The Philippines for five months, he missed his first daughters' first words.
"The things you remember from those days ... people don't think about this now but we didn't have cell phones then. I spoke with her one time on the phone in five months. I had to go through three different operators and when I did get ahold of her, the connection was so bad we could hardly understand each other," Gene recalls.
Most communication was done through the mail, and it would usually take about two weeks each way to receive a letter.
"A lot of people don't appreciate how slow communications were in those days," he says.
As Gene returned from deployment, anti-war sentiment was gaining ground.
When the admiral welcomed the returning units to the San Francisco Bay area, Gene remembers being told not to wear his uniform into town because people were making remarks and throwing trash at military personnel. It was suggested that they wait to put on their uniforms until they got to the base.
"In my mind, it was not a very proud day in our country's history. I even had a pastor in our church make a snide comment about the military," Gene recalls. "I'm really thankful today that the country seems supportive of people in uniform and give recognition to those who serve. But back then, we were looked down upon."
Eventually, Gene wound up at a Naval post graduate school in Monterey, Calif. and then Texas before going back to D.C. where he held a couple of staff jobs at the Pentagon.
Page 4 of 4 - One of his responsibilities there was monitoring the news wire because the international media sometimes reported major events of interest before the military could send encode the information and send it up the chain of command, Gene says.
At 20 years in the service, Gene came close to retiring, but did one more stint and finished up his career in the Navy in 1978 in Memphis, Tenn.
After retiring, the Scheiters moved to St. James, Mo. and Gene finally went to college in Rolla. When he finished his masters degree, Gene got hired for the business specialist position with the University of Missouri Extension, serving seven counties from Camden to the border with Arkansas.
He and Margaret made their home in the lake area and stayed after his retirement in 1992 from the Extension office after 12 years with the program.
Reflecting back on his military service, Gene says he enjoyed his time in the Navy. As the recruiter promised many years before, he saw the world from Europe and Africa to the Far East and lived in nine different states.
The downside, he says, was the challenges for his family having to move every two to three years.
"When people ask me my hometown, I say Quincy, but if you were to ask my kids that, they wouldn't know where to call their hometown," says Gene.
But Gene says he wouldn't trade his time in the Navy and would do it all over again.
"It always felt good doing a service for my country," he says.