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A True Survivor — Q&A with Fred Scheer, a World War II Vet with RP

Fred Scheer, US ArmyWhen I first met Fred Scheer, I was impressed by his quiet, friendly demeanor. I had no clue, at the time, that he was a U.S. Army veteran who’d been deployed during the D-Day invasion, captured by the Germans and then sent to a labor camp, from which he managed to escape. What is also interesting is that Fred is Jewish and has retinitis pigmentosa (RP).

He’s published several books on his experiences as a World War II POW, the most popular being A European Sojourn, which is available on Amazon. Now 90 years of age, Fred lives in Atlanta, Georgia, with Gerry, his wife of 67 years. He has served as president of FFB’s Atlanta chapter in the past, is a member of Atlanta’s veteran service board and is a frequent invited speaker at schools and senior groups.

When did you find out that you had RP?
While stationed in Normandy, I was cleaning my gun one night and, while trying to remove the bayonet, accidently hit my head with it. The chief medic examined not only my head but also took a look at my retina and told me, “Your head is fine, but you have nightblindness”—which is the old medical term for retinitis pigmentosa. When I relayed the medic’s diagnosis to my commanding officer, he simply said, “Never heard of that. Back to the front lines.”

Did having RP affect your military duties?
Not really, as I was a 20-year-old who thought everyone saw things the way I did. Once, though, I was out on patrol with a bunch of soldiers, and we had to hike across a farmer’s field at sunset to get back to our camp. I stopped to tie my boot laces, and when I stood up, the closest soldier in line was about 40 yards in front of me. I started following him and noticed that he kept weaving to the right and then to the left. Surprisingly, when I caught up to him, it was not a fellow soldier but a sheep I had been following.

Fred and Gerry ScheerHow did you get captured by the Germans?
Along with 17 other soldiers, I was asked to go to the “back lines” to retrieve unused ammunition. We walked along a long hedgerow and finally reached the ammo dump. All of a sudden, mortar shells started falling all around us. To escape the bombing, we crawled through a small opening in the hedgerow. As we emerged on the other side, there were about 30 German soldiers with machine guns waiting for us. They shouted, “Hands up in the air, boys!” We had no choice but to surrender.

As a POW, were you ever asked to disclose your religion?
As new POWs, we were put on trains and sent back to work camps in Germany. The soldiers told us that German law prohibited Jews from working, and the German soldiers requested that all Jewish POWs form a separate line. Because I was aware of the dire consequences, I did not step out of line and, when asked my religion, replied that I was Protestant. Unfortunately, Jewish POWs were horribly treated, and many did not survive the war.

Do you have any advice for young people with RP?
Yes. Don’t let your vision disability stop you from doing things you have done in the past or things you want to do in the future. You will just have to do them a little differently. The modern, vision-assistive technology can help tremendously in this regard. If you don’t try, you will never know if you could have succeeded.

Pictured, top: Fred Scheer as a private in the U.S. Army during World War II; and above: with his wife, Gerry, to whom he’s been married 67 years.

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7 Responses to 'A True Survivor — Q&A with Fred Scheer, a World War II Vet with RP'

  1. Mariion Blackwell, Jr. says:

    Fred and I were “friendly competitors” in the commercial real estate business for 50 years. Now, we are just friendly.
    Fred is now, and has always been, a gentleman, and a pleasure to be around. We have lunch often and talk about old days in real estate, and new days as seniors.
    Best wishes, Fred, for many more great years.
    Marion Blackwell

    • Jerry Sawyer says:

      I’ve known Fred for ten years, and he is truly a fine Southern Gentleman. I attend Lifespan (A Seniors Group) with Fred and Gerry. It has been my pleasure to work helping Fred prepare some of the interesting Screen Shows he has presented at a lot of gatherings. Fred’s Screen Shows are on various things, primarily the large number of travels he and Gerry have made. Keep On Keeping On. Fred!

  2. Joan Burton says:

    Thank you for your service Fred. My husband of 64 years is a wwll Vet. also. He too was diagnosed with night blindness RP. He was in England as a Medic, and remained there. He was more fortunate to be diagnosed before deployment. We are still praying for a cure. It will come for our children, grands and greats!!

  3. Arthur Morgan says:

    Fred, You are indeed a gentleman! I enjoyed your message although I was aware of most of what you said as I had read your book. You were a fine looking young man and do very well as an old Phart. I wish you well in the new year. Tootles, arthur

  4. Steve says:

    Fred, congratulation on the escape from Germans
    I was in Europe during the war too.
    Fred what is the proper diet for AMD?
    I don’t smoke,drink some vine and some time some
    sweets,not too much.
    Fred thank you for the help.
    May God Bless you for many years to come Steve

  5. Nicholas Costa says:

    Hi Fred, I too have Retinitis and was drafted during the Korean War, I also had poor vision 20-100 and wore glasses. I broke my glasses during basic training and was sent to Korea into combat and they didn’t know what night blindness was.
    I was very careful in my movement and survived 15 months of combat, I laughed when you said you were following a sheep! I did have a bad event as I was in a Infantry outfit 45 Division and was on 60 MM Mortars and did a have problem hurrying during an attack by the Chinese putting motors in the tube at night in a hollowed out hole in the ground causing the loss of part of my right hand. As you have said we must work with our problems. I still have some vision but I am hoping that stem cell will finally get approved!!

  6. Vicky Clark Strange says:

    Mr. Scheer, I worked as a receptionist for Haas And Dodd Realty in early 1974. You were very kind to hire me as I did not have previous experience. I thoroughly enjoyed working for you, Mr. Edwin Haas, Mr John Talley, Mr George Goldman and all the other agents. I especially appreciated the friendship of Ms Toni Cherry and Ms. Betty Hawkins also. I am so glad to read about you, I hope you and your wife are enjoying life, thank you again for employing me and for all the great memories of Haas and Dodd! Vicky (Clark) Strange

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