DuWayne Schoeneck was supposed to be the chief cook aboard a LCMR (Landing Craft Medium Rocket) Navy ship headed for Okinawa, the largest island battle in the Pacific during the Second World War. He never made it.
“When I was 18 I was drafted in 1944,” the 89-year-old resident of Grand Villa assisted living facility in Englewood, Fla. said. “I had been a meat cutter and they made me a cook in the Navy. After boot camp at Great Lakes they sent me to Norfolk, Va. and I went aboard my ship. I became a cook in training.
“My ship was an ammunition boat that transported rockets. She was approximately 400-feet long with a crew of 175,” he recalled. “She had 20 and 40 millimeter anti-aircraft guns and a 5-inch main gun aboard.
“It was 1945 and we went on a shakedown cruise out of Norfolk. Then we were on our way to join the fleet off Okinawa when the war ended,” Schoeneck explained. “We came back to Norfolk and unloaded the rockets. After that we took a cruise for several weeks to the Great Lakes, down the St. Lawrence Seaway and into Canada.
“We sailed back to Norfolk, I got off the ship and I was discharged from the Navy in 1946. Shortly after that I understand our boat was scrapped,” the old sailor said.
Schoeneck didn’t know it at the time, but it was just the beginning of a decades-long life at sea as the chief cook aboard many ocean-going ships that sailed the Great Lakes. For 33-years he worked aboard dozens of freighters and tankers that plied those waters.
“I was scheduled to be the chief cook aboard the Edmund Fitzgerald, on the voyage where she sank with the loss of all hands. I got off another ship late and they replaced me with another cook,” he said. “I was at home at the time in Toledo, Ohio. My wife woke me that morning and told me the Edmund Fitzgerald had gone down in the Great Lakes.”
The SS Edmund Fitzgerald was American owned and the biggest ship on the Great Lakes. She was caught in a storm on Lake Superior on Nov. 10, 1975 and disappeared at night in 500 plus feet of water with her entire crew of 29. The big ore boat was on her way from Duluth, Minn. with a load of iron pellets for a steel mill in Detroit, Mich.
After her sinking she became the stuff of legend and song. In 1976 singer Gordon Lightfoot recorded the hit record “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.’ A number of books have been written over the years about the ill-fated giant ore boat.
All of this is part of Schoeneck’s maritime life. He retired from the sea in 1988. By then he and his wife, Maxine, were living in Florida. The couple moved down here in 1980. She passed away in 1990.
He has two grown sons: Walter and Dwight.
Name: DuWayne Shoeneck
D.O.B: 22 Feb. 1926
Hometown: Alexander, Minn.
Currently: Englewood, Fla.
Entered Service: 1944
Unit: LCMR (Landing Craft Medium Rocket)
This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Monday, Feb. 8, 2016 and is republished with permission.
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