The camaraderie of military service was in evidence Monday as retirees of the St. Louis Area 5 Chapter of the National Guard Association met at an old haunt for many, historic .
About 60 chapter members, mostly veterans of the Missouri Air National Guard, gathered at the Joint Armed Forces Reserve Center where the “war stories” flew.
“The National Guard is family-oriented,” said Leon Walters, 76, of Green Park, a Salina, Kan. native who served 36 years with the Missouri Air Guard.
“There was always that family connection in the Guard,” he continued. “I stay connected with them because they’re a good group of people.”
Walters was an administrative and public affairs NCO for the 131st Communications Flight at Lambert Field, retiring in 1996 as a master sergeant.
“The feeling of camaraderie is the same now as when we were still serving,” said Arthur Schuermann, 69, of Sunset Hills, a retired Air Guard major who now works with the Jefferson Barracks Historic Preservation Office.
Unlike most Guardsmen, Schuermann enlisted at the age of 39.
“I went straight in as a professional officer,” he said. “I was a chaplain, and later when I left the ministry, I stayed with the Guard as an enlisted airman. After that I went into engineering and became a major.”
Schuermann eventually served more than 20 years in the Air National Guard, retiring in 2002 on his 60th birthday with the 131st Civil Engineer Squadron at Lambert Field.
Also catching up with old comrades was 72-year-old Larry Kelly, of St. Charles, a retired master sergeant who spent 18 years in the Air National Guard after serving four years in the active duty Air Force. Kelly enlisted in 1958 at the age of 17 and served with the St. Louis-based 131st Consolidated Aircraft Maintenance Squadron.
“I was an aircraft hydraulic technician and I loved it,” Kelly said. “I loved working on aircraft so much that I joined the Guard so I could continue to do it. My wife used to tell me that I was the only person she knew who loved to go to work, and I did.”
Like many of his fellow retirees, Kelly spoke of the enduring bonds that develop as a result of military service.
“The Guard wasn’t like a job; it was like a family,” he said. “If you saw a guy having a problem, you would help him and that guy would do the same for you. No matter what we did, everybody helped everybody else.”
Schuermann pointed out that family is even more important to today’s National Guardsmen because of numerous overseas deployments, something that did not occur when he served.
“When I was in the Guard our role was considered as more of a reserve force for a worst-case scenario,” he said. “Today the Guard is more of an operational reserve and you could get called up at any time. The Guard changed drastically after 9-11.”
Asked if he would serve again, Schuermann did not hesitate.
“I would do it all over again in a heartbeat,” he said. “I have no regrets what-so-ever.”