SPRINGFIELD, NJ – Recently, due to a kind introduction by Township Administrator Ziad Shehady, I was fortunate enough to spend an hour with Ray Schramm. He greeted me with a nice smile and a strong handshake. While most of the short time was spent talking about his World War II experience on the USS Texas, thoughts about how much has happened and changed in his life were always present.
Ray Schramm has lived in Springfield for most of his 94 years. His is a life that reaches back to the Roaring Twenties, felt the hardship of the Great Depression, and was greatly affected by World War II. Like most young men of that time he signed up for military duty. Unlike most young men of the time, during World War II, Ray saw combat in both Europe and the Pacific. He is a veteran of two wars.
Before and after World War II, Ray has spent almost all his life in Springfield. He was born in Summit, NJ on August 26, 1922. Two days later he was moved to Springfield, NJ. His current house is next door to a house where he grew up. His first home was on what is now Rose Ave. In those days, much of the area was a farm. His dad worked for Westinghouse and he was one of six children. There were three boys and three girls. He still talks to his 92 year old younger brother.
Growing up, he attended kindergarten thru eighth grade at James Caldwell School, which was then just the first floor annex. He attended Jonathan Dayton High School where he was a member of the track team, the basketball team and the band. On the track team he did the pole vault and high jump. On the basketball team he was a forward and will tell you he was tall for the times. For the band, he played the clarinet and tenor sax. During his senior year he was the Student Leader of the band. Most of his time in the Springfield school system was during the Great Depression, which he remembers as “hard times”.
In 1942, he joined the Navy just as his brothers did. For the first seven months of duty he was part of a ship’s company and played in a band. Then he was assigned to the Texas and served on it for two years. He was a leading Petty Officer and often stood watch in the crow’s nest. During those two years of duty, the ship was involved in five major battles. Three of the battles were in the Atlantic and two were in the Pacific.
The three battles in the Atlantic were the D-Day Normandy Invasion, the Battle of Cherbourg and Operation Dragoon. The D-Day Invasion of Normandy is the most famous of the three and the Texas was one of 1,213 warships involved. A well kept secret, the crew did not know about the invasion until the channel was crossed. Prior to the D-Day Invasion, Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower addressed the crew of the Texas. Later Ray Schramm would play in a band for the General.
During the invasion, the Texas fired on Nazi positions supporting the troop landings on Omaha Beach. One of the sites targeted was Pointe du Hoc, which President Reagan spoke of in his speech commemorating the 40th Anniversary of D-Day (link below).
The Battle of Cherbourg was part of the Normandy Invasion and it took place after the allied landings. The battle was the only time in combat the Texas experienced a combat fatality. It was hit by two Nazi shells, of which only one exploded. The one that did explode hit the pilot house and wrecked it. Of the eleven injured, one died. After getting fixed up in Plymouth, England the Texas went on to Operation Dragoon, which involved an invasion of Southern France. That invasion ended up being easier than expected.
After getting fully repaired in New York, the Texas set sail for the Pacific in November 1944. The two battles in the Pacific were the Battle of Iwo Jima and the Battle of Okinawa. While the only fatality the Texas experience happened in the Atlantic, the worst attacks on the Texas according to Mr. Schramm came from Kamikazes in battles in Pacific. He estimated there were 125 a day for two weeks.
For the Battle of Iwo Jima, the Texas arrived three days before amphibious landings were scheduled and spent those days bombarding Japanese positions. During the Marine landings of the island, the Texas responsibility shifted to supporting the Marines with “On-call fire”. Mr. Schramm remembers seeing the U.S. flag raising on Iwo Jima memorialized in a picture by Joseph Rosenthal.
The last battle of World War II for the Texas was called Operation Iceberg, or the Battle of Okinawa. As it was done for Iwo Jima, the Texas initial role was to prepare the way for battle. According to Mr. Schramm, that included mine sweeping and the pre-invasion bombardment. After six days, the amphibious landings commenced and once ashore. The Texas stayed there for almost two months continuing the bombardments. As part of the battle, the Texas also helped capture the airfields on Ie Shima. On May 14, 1945, the Texas headed for the Philippines and its end of combat. Mr. Schramm was headed back home when the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima.
For almost two years, Ray Schramm’s home was the Texas. He was one of about 1,000 sailors on it. In his time in the Navy he was part of world changing battles and he saw a great deal of the world. Aside from the Atlantic Coast of Europe and those Japanese Islands, he saw Iceland, Algeria, the Panama Canal, Argentina, the Philippines and many other places. Three years ago, he went to reunion for the Texas crew in Houston; 30 of the sailors made it.
Aside from family pictures, he has many items in his house tied to the Texas and the battles he helped fight in World War II. The Texas is now a National Historic Landmark and owned by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. It was commissioned on March 12, 1914 and at the time was considered the powerful weapon of the time. It is the last remaining battleship to have participated in World War I and World War II.
After the war, he got married and raised two daughters. He also became a toolmaker. To learn tool making, he went to Bloomfield Tech and Irvington Tech and then worked for Victory Optical out of Newark. In the late 1980's, he went to China to help set up an optical business. He traveled to China with two others and spent several weeks there. They flew to Shanghai and went 100 miles south to where the new facility was based. Shanghai’s population has tripled since and travel conditions are much better.
One of his hobbies was making models planes and boats. One is model of the Texas built from scratch. It is three feet long. The other is of the USS United States, also built from scratch. Each model took over two years to complete.
Mr. Schramm’s life spans a time that includes events and inventions that fill many history books. When he was growing up, much of Springfield was farm land and the pace of development accelerated after the war. Route 22 was started in 1926 and I-78 was started in 1957.
The Presidents in office during his life include Warren G. Harding, Calvin Coolidge, Herbert Hoover, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Harry Truman, Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, James Carter, Ronald Reagan, George Herbert Walker Bush, William Jefferson Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama. Next will be Donald Trump. There have also been over 70 different Mayors of Springfield.
He is a member of the American Legion and is a Mason. The picture of General Eisenhower on the Texas comes USN/USNI.