Local woman's book honors war hero uncle

Juneau resident pays tribute to her uncle, his battalion with poignant compilation of history

Posted: Sunday, November 11, 2001

A review of "We Clear The Way: A Tribute to My Uncle, Staff Sergeant John L. Schreier and the 319th Engineer Combat Battalion, 94th Infantry Division, United States Army," by Rose Welton (68 pages, paperback, photographs).

"We clear the way" was the motto of the Army Engineers, indicating their assignment: To clear the path so the Infantry could advance safely to the front. During World War II, Combat Engineers laid and cleared mines, provided water supplies, dynamited obstacles including pillboxes, repaired roads and constructed new ones. Their best-known activity was building bridges, often while under enemy fire.

Occasionally a bridge was dedicated to a member of battalion who had lost his life. The 319th Engineer Combat Battalion dedicated two bridges: One to Sergeant Peter Medwick, and the other to Staff Sergeant John L. Schreier (1921-45).

Schreier was the uncle of Juneau resident Rose Schreier Welton, an uncle she never knew "but always wondered about."

Welton has compiled this memorial book, "We Clear the Way," in honor of her uncle and the 319th. It's an interesting and poignant combination of excerpts from "History of the 94th Infantry Division in World War II" with unpublished war diaries, memoirs, World War II letters, modern e-mails, period photographs, letters and documents. It covers the period from training at Camp Phillips, Kan. (Nov. 42-Aug. 43), maneuvers in Tennessee, and training at Camp McCain, Miss. (Nov. 1943-July 1944), to sailing aboard the Queen Elizabeth for Europe, and service in France and Germany. Engineer John Grane's diary proceeds through booby traps, fox holes, ambushes, many assignments and the deaths of comrades in arms to his duty after V-E Day, May 7, 1945, until November, when he finally boards a ship for home.

Welton corresponded with members of Company B, her uncle's company, and has unearthed some excellent material about day-to-day activities and the kibitzing and friendships which helped boost morale.

A detail from the January 1945 entries in Grane's journal helps to sum up life on the front lines: "I remember one of my squad members telling another which fork in a path in the woods to take one dark night. 'Feel around for a German with a leg blown off and go that way.' Right, not just any corpse."

The book was designed by Juneau graphic artist Laura Lucas, who created the olive drab background for the cover by scanning wool Army trousers. It's a handsome production. One wishes one heard more from Schreier, but the material from Grane, Chet Slepski, Thomas Wellems, Robert Bailey, Raymond Simpson, Leroy Pedracine and others is definitely worth bringing to light.

"We Clear The Way" can be purchased from the author, P.O. Box 22704, Juneau 99802; 364-2779. Price is $15 plus $3.50 shipping. Profits will be donated to the National World War II Memorial Campaign.

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