SPENCER, Iowa | Marvin Schmidt looked at his hand grenade and his New Testament Bible.
"My choices were to blow myself up. I put my finger in the grenade ring, but couldn't pull it," said Schmidt. "Instead, I picked up the Bible. I hadn't ever looked at it. I read the 23rd Psalm and got through it a few times and then tried to memorize it.
"I never thought I'd get out of there."
Marvin Schmidt, 87, of Spencer, Iowa, was shot in Korea and left for dead on May 17, 1951. He bled and slept, floating into and out of consciousness for seven days, alone, wet and cold and at the mercy of North Korean and Chinese soldiers on patrol, enemies who poked him with their rifles, went through his pockets and, ultimately, showed mercy. One gave him a poncho and a cup of food. An enemy medic who spoke English advised him to brace for an onslaught of artillery that was sure to come. Schmidt wasn't taken prisoner, deemed too big an inconvenience as he couldn't walk, not with a right lower leg shattered, infected.
So, Marvin Schmidt, a 22-year-old U.S. Army corporal lay prone near a small stream, not far from the Pusan Perimeter through which the Chinese had pushed. Using bushes for cover, he sipped water from a stream, cupping a leaf like a saucer. The shells came, and a nearby explosion shot shrapnel into his neck and jaw, tossing his body 15 feet.
"I could not move my arms and felt myself starting to pass out," he said. "I thought my legs were done and that I was dying."
He slid closer to the stream and awoke the following morning. That's when he felt for one of his two grenades and his Bible. For the next two days he read the 23rd Psalm. "...Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil for thou art with me..."
"At the end of the seventh day I heard a noise and saw that it was one of our patrols," Schmidt said. "I yelled, 'Hey!'"
Corporal Schmidt, who trained as a refrigeration mechanic, was given a shot of medicine and loaded onto a stretcher. A helicopter evacuated him to an aid station. Doctors cleaned his wound, flushing it of maggots before surgery. Actress Veronica Lake visited the MASH (Mobile Army Surgical Hospital) unit. He waved at her from across the room, laying on his back recuperating from a death-defying experience.
Schmidt was air-lifted again to Osaka Army Base in Japan. A doctor from Storm Lake, Iowa, whose name escapes Schmidt's memory decided to save the leg. A nurse told Schmidt later that he'd been sent to this hospital to have it amputated.
The doctor saved it and sent Schmidt to Brooks Army Hospital at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, where he stayed for two years, undergoing extensive treatment, which included a skin graft that involved sewing the bottom portion of both legs together for 21 days. He remained in bed for the first five months of his treatment and lost 1.5 inches from his right leg.
"I was also treated for the shrapnel wound to my neck," he said. "Doctors found a tiny piece, about one to two square inches of cloth, in my neck. It probably came off my uniform."
Schmidt earned a 60 percent disability pension in his retirement from the Army, discharged after 5 years and 10 days of service. "I was treated as if I'd served 30 years," he said.
He used the G.I. Bill to study engineering at the University of South Dakota for two years, then at South Dakota State University for two years, where he earned a degree in electrical engineering. He worked for McDonald Aircraft in St. Louis, Missouri for five years. A career at Collins Radio, later Rockwell Collins, in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, encompassed 23 years and allowed Schmidt the chance to see much of the world, conducting avionics seminars while contributing to projects surrounding the Apollo space program.
He and his wife, Ethel Schmidt, whom he wed in 1954, raised four children, who now have their own families in communities from Colorado to Iowa to Florida. The Schmidts, who retired to Spencer in 2001, enjoy following nine grandchildren and 14 great-grandchildren.
Marvin Schmidt, a member of the Disabled American Veterans organization and the American Legion, has, in recent years, shared his his story with local Kiwanis Clubs and church groups. He recorded the events of his tour of duty, and Ethel typed it for a family history.
Did service in Korea change this man?
"I was always bashful and somewhat withdrawn," said Schmidt, a 1947 graduate of Everly High School in Everly, Iowa. "The military helped me to work with people, something I'd do the rest of my life while traveling the world. It became one of life's greatest joys."
The 23rd Psalm continues to hold a special place in his heart, as does May 24, the date of his rescue, a convergence of luck, grit and faith that has allowed this man to count his blessings each day for the past 65 years.
"We go out for dinner on May 24," he said. "It is a special date."