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Robert Schnaith, Ensign O-1

Serving in the U.S. Navy right after World War II, Robert Schnaith used his knack for chemistry to become an engineering officer for a ship of 60 men in the South Pacific, where he and his men aided the victims of Iwo Jima.

Robert Schnaith was born in1923, in St. Paul, Minnesota.  Although he grew up during the Great Depression, his grandfather’s plumbing business allowed his family to live comfortably. 

In his interview, Mr. Schnaith explains how he developed a knack for science at an early age. In fact, he owes his chemistry career to his high school teacher, who encouraged him to pursuit his interest in chemistry. During his second year in college, the Navy offered to financially support all University of Minnesota students who were interested in joining—an offer Mr. Schnaith could not refuse. On the Navy’s dime, he graduated college as a chemical engineer around 1943.

Immediately after graduating, the Navy sent him to Ithaca, New York for officer training, which was followed by diesel training at Carolina State University. After all this training, Mr. Schnaith finally became a Diesel Engineer for the U.S. Navy. Shortly after, he was shipped to the South Pacific to clean up after the war. 

He was eventually sent to Iwo Jima, where he became the engineering officer for a ship of 60 sailors.  While he was there, he helped revive the islands destroyed by the Japanese during the war.  He provided transportation for those in the Navy going back and forth between islands, and helped the civilians get back on their feet.  After a year and a half in the Navy, Mr. Schnaith learned what it was like to call a ship “home”—which, in his opinion, took some getting used to.  He mentions, for example, the lack of privacy on a ship with 60 other men.   

After returning to the United States, Mr. Schnaith remained on the inactive list for two years, but was never recalled.  He enrolled in a few post-graduate courses at the University of Minnesota before taking an engineering job with Amoco Oil Company in Indiana.  After moving to Indiana, he met his wife on a blind date, and has been happily married ever since. 

Mr. Schnaith emphasizes the importance of supporting and paying respect to veterans for their service.  He believes it is important to donate to organizations like the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the Paralyzed Veterans Association, and he tries to give back as much as he can.