History, current events, weather, hobbies, cars, farm equipment, medical issues – these are some of the topics of discussion among the men of a coffee group that meets on Wednesdays in the Riley (Kansas) Presbyterian Church fellowship hall.
Twenty-seven men of various ages and religious backgrounds attend regularly, with about 14 to 20 there on any given Wednesday. Because at least half of the “regulars” have served in the Air Force, Army, Marine Corps, or Navy, military events inspire additional discussions.
When Ed Woodyard came to one Men’s Coffee wearing his USS MIDWAY cap, Erich Schwartz saw that they had something in common. Woodyard and Schwartz had both served on the USS Midway. Radioman Third Class Woodyard was on that ship 1958 to ’60, and Personnelman Third Class Schwartz served on the Midway 1975 to ’78.
After his discharge from the Navy in 1981, Schwartz graduated from Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary, in Berkeley, California, was ordained, and served for over 20 years as an Army chaplain at bases in the United States, Germany, and South Korea. Retiring from active duty in 2007, he has served two Lutheran congregations and is currently the pastor of two Presbyterian churches northwest of Manhattan, Kansas.
At a Men’s Coffee early in August 2016, the drinking buddies recalled “Operation Paul Bunyan”, a significant military action in which the Midway participated 40 years earlier. On 21 Aug. 1976 — while Schwartz served on the ship — the aircraft carrier and other U.S. military forces participated in a massive show of force – by air, land, and sea – against North Korea, after North Korean soldiers brutally murdered two U.S. Army officers, three days earlier, at the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) between North and South Korea.
An excellent discussion of this historic event is available on line at Operation Paul Bunyan or axe murder incident.
In 2002 to ’03, Schwartz was a brigade chaplain in the 2nd Infantry Division in South Korea. Among the units to which he provided chaplain support was the 2nd Engineer Battalion – the unit whose two officers were murdered by North Koreans in 1976. Each year in August, the Engineers conduct a memorial run to honor the slain officers, and Schwartz participated in the 2002 run.