When Bert Schrank was born in 1923 in a farmhouse in Pottsville, his grandmother delivered him. Following that, the family almost lost him “because they couldn’t get anything to ‘stay’ with me,” he said. The local doctor tried everything and then suggested boiling oats and feeding him the liquid. Oddly enough, it worked.
Schrank went to public school his first year, then a Lutheran parochial school for six years before returning to public school in Pottsville. Before he graduated — as valedictorian — Pottsville began playing six-man football in 1940. Schrank scored the team’s first touchdown. “That’s my claim to athletic fame,” he said, laughing.
Schrank was unsure about what he wanted to do after graduation, so he worked in his father’s automotive garage for a year before enrolling in business school at Tarleton in the fall of 1941 — just months before the attack on Pearl Harbor.
At John Tarleton Agricultural College he was a member of the Reserves Officers’ Training Corps. He played in the band, as did his friend, Bill Barkley. They knew each other from the Pottsville area. Schrank also met the girl that would later become his wife.
Schrank joined the U.S. Army Reserves in 1942 with the understanding he would finish his education. After two years at Tarleton, he went on to Texas A&M, but a month later, in February 1943, he was called to active duty. He transferred to the Army Air Corps and went to basic training at Sheppard Field, followed by the San Antonio Aviation Center and then Oklahoma A&M (now Oklahoma State) for pilot training and college courses.
No cure for air sickness
Starting out in a Piper Cub, Schrank found he couldn’t get past motion sickness, and it knocked him out of training. He was assigned to a bigger plane, an AT-7, but once again, he got airsick. He tried everything from medication to not eating before a flight, but nothing helped.
He went into radio reception and trained to be radar operator “Radar was beginning to be a big thing,” he said.
He was assigned to the 147th Army Airways Communications System and was sent throughout the U.S. for training. In Washington State, he was on an attack-class patrol boat on the Columbia River. Everything went well, with no motion sickness, until they left the river and went into the ocean. He was seasick for three days.
Nevertheless, he boarded a ship for Saipan. From there he flew to Peleliu Island, where he spent the remainder of his deployment. It was 1945, and the 1st Marines had secured the island by the time Schrank arrived. They expected a Japanese raid from the ocean, but it never happened. What he didn’t know, but found out later, was that Japanese infantry were still on the island, hidden in tunnels. Fortunately, he was never hurt.
Life on Peleliu had adventure, such as swimming inside a cave that could only be reached by going underwater. Once the men built a raft with oil barrels for pontoons and paddled to a neighboring island.
In 1946, he received an offer to take charge of communications, which most likely would mean a promotion, but “I was too much of a homebody,” Schrank said. He wanted to go home and turned down the opportunity. He flew from Peleliu to Saipan, with a stop on Guam, where his old friend, Barkley, was stationed. It was a happy surprise for all, and the pair met with another Pottsville friend and talked through the night.
Life in Hamilton County
After receiving his discharge as a corporal in 1946, exactly three years after joining, Schrank went to work for his dad. Although he enjoyed it, he wanted more. He began delivering fuel to farms and businesses, and in 1951 married Nancy Fay Pruitt. They settled in Hamilton.
After the company he worked for changed ownership several times, Schrank had an opportunity to buy the operation and launched a lucrative career, which his daughter and her husband bought in 1988.
Schrank is a longtime member of the VFW, the American Legion and the Lions Club; he was a volunteer firefighter for 27 years. He and Nancy had three children, 12 grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren. He also returned to college, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in general studies in 1992.
Life took a rough turn in 2000. Schrank had open heart surgery with six bypasses, followed by knee replacements in 2005. In 2011, a daughter died a month before Nancy passed away. In 2013, he had a hip replacement and spent his recovery in Plano with a close friend.
Not all Schrank’s memories are good, but he tries not to think about it. “You have to watch yourself — even from the good memories,” he said.
“Today, the greatest thing I have besides my Christian faith, is my friends and family,” he said.
And for Schrank, that’s enough.
“Voices of Valor,” featuring stories about Central Texas veterans, publishes every Sunday in the Waco Trib. To suggest a story about a Central Texas veteran, email email@example.com. Voices of Valor is proudly sponsored by Johnson Roofing.