In July of 2018, former Herscher resident, Mel Schriefer, came to the Pilot office to share a “few pictures”. Most were enlarged, well-preserved junior high and high school photos of his days as an athlete at Herscher.
His family had moved to Herscher in 1939. Lettering in football, baseball and track, Schriefer was clearly a successful athlete in his early days.
There was another picture, however, of his days in the army that was much more fascinating. He was in the Army for six years, from 1948 to 1954. During that time, he served in Korea from 1951-1952.
After returning from Korea, Schriefer was sent to Chemical, Radiological, Biological school, and subsequently joined 3000 other soldiers in Camp Desert Rock, Nevada. They were involved in atomic bomb radiation testing.
Atomic Annie, the world’s first and only atomic cannon, was tested on May 25, 1953. Schriefer was among the men who were exposed to high radiation levels when the atomic bomb was launched 10 miles in 10 seconds.
Awaiting the detonation, the soldiers were in a 5 foot deep trench 4500 meters from ground zero. The men wore only standard breathing masks and no protective gear.
They remained in the blast zone inhaling the dust from the atomic explosion for 8-10 days doing radiation testing. There was even radiation in the tents where they slept.
As a result, 75% of the 3000 had contracted cancer, including Schriefer. In addition, he suffered from internal bleeding. Schriefer had been trying for years to get recognition for atomic veterans.
Schriefer went to the University of Illinois for a year. At the end of that year, he was offered a custodial job there. He was in charge of the entire custodial staff for the U of I dormitories with 187 employees under him. And, that is where he remained until his retirement in 1993.
After retiring, he bought and ran a small cattle farm in Alvin, IL for 18 years.
An avid runner, at the age of 52, Schriefer began running every road in Champaign County. He finished four years later. He has also competed in every Steamboat Classic race for the past 46 years.
Schriefer traveled to 37 countries throughout Europe, Asia, and Africa.
He was a father of 7 children. His oldest son and namesake passed away at the age of 35.
As he was leaving the Pilot office, Schriefer, who had just turned 90, discussed how he had been in downtown Herscher shortly after the bank across the street from the Pilot office was robbed in 1942.
Mel Schriefer passed away on May 22, 2021. In true Mel Schriefer style, he wrote his own very extensive and facinating obituary which is much too long to run in the Herscher Pilot newspaper edition.
However, the entire obituary can be found on herscherpilot.com under the obituaries tab.
It is worth the read.