It started with a lucky hit.
Laura Jowdy, an archivist at the Congressional Medal of Honor Society, typed his name into Google Books on a whim, and out popped a new result that led to a clue. He had moved to California at some point — San Diego, to be specific.
Roughly one year and involvement from three organizations later, it was confirmed: the cremated remains in a communal, unclaimed crypt at Greenwood Cemetery in San Diego were, in fact, those of Charles Schroeter, a 31-year Army and Marine Corps veteran who fought in the Civil War and was awarded the Medal of Honor for his valor in the Campaign of the Rocky Mesa in 1869.
On July 9 — 94 years after his death — Sgt. Schroeter will finally receive the proper military funeral he earned, and he will become the first Medal of Honor recipient to be buried at Miramar National Cemetery.
Research done by Bill Heard, public information officer at the Miramar National Cemetery Support Foundation, and Don Morfe, a volunteer with the Congressional Medal of Honor Historical Society, was able to paint a very detailed picture of Schroeter's life.
Charles Schroeter was born in Luneburg, Germany, in either 1837 or 1833 — records vary, but the 1833 date has been deemed correct since Schroeter attempted to appear younger when enlisting and used the 1837 date in military records.
Unemployment and crop failures in Germany prompted him to move to the United States in 1860, where records show he entered the country at New Orleans. When the Civil War broke out shortly after, he moved to St. Louis and, in 1863, enlisted as a private in Company A of the 1st Missouri Volunteer Cavalry Regiment.
Pvt. Schroeter saw action against Confederate troops in central and south-central Arkansas, including the Expedition against Little Rock and the Red River Campaign.
He was discharged in 1865, but after a year of civilian work in St. Louis, he was back at it. This time he enlisted as a private in the newly formed 8th U.S. Cavalry regiment — one of four regiments created to protect settlers in the wagon trains moving west from Native American attacks — and spent the next two years fighting in the Snake Wars against Paiute, Bannock and Shoshone tribes in Arizona, Oregon, Nevada, California and the Idaho Territory.
The 8th Cavalry continued to engage in skirmishes with tribes in New Mexico, Colorado and Arizona, where the Campaign of the Rocky Mesa unfolded on Oct. 20, 1869, against a band of Apaches that had ambushed a stagecoach. Schroeter and 31 other soldiers were awarded the Medal of Honor, the top military award, for bravery in this battle.
For the next five years, Schroeter spent time in infantry regiments in South Dakota, campaigning in the West, before being discharged from the Army in 1876. But once again, he was quickly back at it, this time enlisting in the Marine Corps in Norfolk, Va., in November 1876. He served aboard the USS Alliance in the Mediterranean, the USS Franklin in Norfolk and, for nine days, at Marine Barracks, Norfolk, before being honorably discharged on Nov. 2, 1881.
Eighteen years of service wasn’t enough for Schroeter. On Nov. 14, 1881, he yet again enlisted in the Army in the 10th Infantry Regiment, which spent time in New Mexico, Texas and Colorado. He was promoted to sergeant during this enlistment.
Schroeter was sworn into Company C of the 9th Infantry Regiment for a five-year term in 1886 as a corporal. He enlisted two more times before retiring from the Army as a sergeant at age 64 on Nov. 23, 1894, after 31 years of service.
Schroeter then moved to Buffalo, N.Y., and opened a confectionary, cigar and tobacco shop with Union Army veteran Elwin L. Hoopes. In 1896 he earned his Masonic degrees and joined the Free and Accepted Masons Parish Lodge No. 292 of Buffalo.
When Hoopes died in 1913, Schroeter, who had lived with him and his family, moved west to San Diego to live with Hoopes’ son Charles, an artist and landscaper in Mission Hills.
Schroeter passed away on Jan. 27, 1921, and was cremated at Greenwood Cemetery. With no family of his own, he bequeathed a $100 John Hancock Insurance Co. burial policy and $100 Masonic insurance policy to Elizabeth Hoopes to cover the cost of a burial, but for reasons unknown, that never transpired.
Fast forward 90 years to archivist Jowdy’s lucky search. She said Schroeter is one of 400 men who have been awarded the Medal of Honor who, for one reason or another — be it a common name like William Smith, never filing for a pension, etc. — haven’t been located after they got out of the service and are essentially lost.
Searching for these 400 men isn’t part of her job, but it is something she and her fellow archivists at the Congressional Medal of Honor Society will do from time to time.
She said finding a lucky clue that leads to solving the mystery of one of their lives happens about two or three times a year, with about 10 Medal of Honor recipients a year being re-discovered. That number is dropping though, Jowdy said, as the pool of 400 gets whittled down to the really difficult cases to piece together.
Although she handed Schroeter’s information to the Medal of Honor Historical Society of the United States after discovering this link, Jowdy said it’s still exciting to be part of the process.
“It’s very exciting — all the puzzle pieces coming together is always exciting, and then to be able to have the historical documentation to back it up is even better,” Jowdy said. “Because then we’re able to say, particularly in Schroeter’s case, we’re able to say ‘He had a business in Buffalo, this is what the business did.’ It adds another level to him, another dimension to his life.
“In addition to receiving the Medal, he also went on and owned his own business and he served this many years in the Army and also in the Marine Corps — just being able to suss out some details on these guys’ lives is always good.”
Miramar's first Medal of Honor
It was Morfe at the Medal of Honor Historical Society who then pushed further. Morfe — who has dedicated much of his retirement to finding Medal of Honor gravesites, ensuring all recipients have the plaque and marker they deserve, and has visited nearly 3,000 Medal of Honor graves in total — received the lead from Jowdy. After some research, Morfe found out Schroeter’s remains were at Greenwood.
After confirming the birth and death dates of the person at Greenwood matched the person Jowdy found, he contacted Greenwood, which confirmed that this was the same Charles Schroeter. Cemetery officials noted that not only did Schroeter not have the Medal of Honor marker given by the Department of Veterans Affairs, he didn’t even have a burial site.
That was back in 2010, before Cathy Fiorelli, now Greenwood’s assistant general manager, was there, but she confirmed his remains are in a communal crypt of unclaimed urns. Though the VA changed their policy on allocating Medal of Honor plaques in 2010, Morfe was able to secure one for Schroeter, and in 2013, got the go-ahead from Greenwood that they would install it by his site.
“My predecessor, the former manager, said, ‘Hey no problem,’” Fiorelli said. “So Morfe went through the paperwork to get the plaque made and shipped, and when it arrived on site, we looked up Schroeter’s grave space, interment site to install the marker, and realized he was in the communal crypt with other cremated remains.
“At that time we decided this is not befitting of a Medal of Honor winner; we should disinter and re-inter him. “
Fiorelli said the initial plan was to do so in the military section at Greenwood, but she had a connection at Miramar National Cemetery, and everyone involved agreed re-interment at a military cemetery was most appropriate.
So, thanks to the research of Heard and Morfe, and the work of the U.S. Army team at Ft. Irwin, Schroeter will be moved in a hearse from Greenwood to Miramar on July 8, and on July 9 receive the proper military and Medal of Honor burial he was denied all these years.
Ken Drylie, public affairs officer at Ft. Irwin, said the Army is preparing a full honors burial — and then some. The 11th Armored Cavalry horse detachment will be present, including four horses, a horseman carrying the U.S. flag and another carrying the Army flag, and two guards on the ends with sabers, all dressed in the Army uniform of 1901, when the regiment was stood up.
A horse-drawn hearse will bear Schroeter’s remains in a procession behind the cavalry detachment, with dignitaries following in line to the amphitheater where the remains will be removed.
The military band from the 40th Infantry Division of the California National Guard will play both the Marine Corps and Army hymns as well as taps, and an honor guard will fire a rifle salute.
The American flag will be unfolded — since Schroeter doesn’t have a casket — and refolded, the chaplain from the National Training Center at Ft. Irwin will give remarks, soldiers will recover his remains and take them to their final resting place.
The ceremony is set to step off at 9 a.m. and last roughly an hour. Drylie said it’s not a short trek from Ft. Irwin to Miramar, but is one that everyone who is participating — from the commanding general down — is excited about and honored to be part of.
“This is an important thing for really all soldiers, all military guys,” Drylie said. “It’s one of those things we talk about — you’re not just a soldier for the time you’re in the Army, you’re a soldier for life. The day those young kids raise their hand and promise to defend the Constitution of the United States, they become a soldier for life.
“We have a warrior ethos — one of those things is never leave a fallen comrade behind.”