Butler County Times Gazette
  • High flyer

  • Augusta man recalls careers in the Air Force and U.S. Customs
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  • In 89 years, you can accomplish a lot.
    Magnus “Russ” Schuldt has certainly made the most of his time, so far. He has held 120 jobs and enjoyed more than a few hobbies.
    Schuldt has shown Chocolate tipped Siamese Cats, fished in Alaska, and was even a racecar driver in Iowa two years before NASCAR was created.
    But the love of his life has been flying. He flew in three wars and a 20-year career with U.S. Customs Service. He has piloted more than 50 different airplanes.
    He flew 36 missions as an officer in the Air Force during Word War II, and the Korean and Vietnam conflicts.
    His life started out pretty simple before a decision to join the Air Force allowed his life to take off in a different direction.
    He was born in Iowa in 1924 and was named after a Gubernatorial candidate in Minnesota. Magnus Russell Schuldt has gone by a lot of names in his 89 years, but he prefers Russ now.
    At the age of 13 his family moved to California.
    “Los Angeles was a pretty nice place to be back then,” Schuldt said. “I rode my bike all over the city. I even had a job delivering for Western Union.”
    Part of that first job included singing telegrams.
    “We would knock on the door and sing ‘Happy Birthday’ to people,” he said.
    At the age of 18, Schuldt and one of his friends were two of the few young men who hadn’t been drafted into the service during WWII. Both of them went to the draft board and asked to be called up.
    Soon he was in the Air Force.
    He flew in a B-24 as a flight engineer during WWII. He was one of 11 people in the aircraft during missions.
    The B-24 was the airplane that gave Schuldt his biggest scare in 44 years of flying. His crew was flying through heavy ack ack – anti-aircraft fire – when they sustained damage that cost them an engine. They were over the Hermit Islands and didn’t have enough fuel to find a base and the crew bailed out.
    Schuldt remembers seeing 10 parachutes other than his own in the air after they bailed out. Not long after the chutes deployed, Schuldt recalled seeing the plane lose power and fall into the ocean below.
    Only seven of the 11 men survived. It took him several hours to make it to shore after splashing down. They still don’t know whether the four lost crew members drowned or were killed by sharks.
    Page 2 of 3 - The survivors lived in an abandoned house, eating papaya and coconuts for about eight days until natives of an adjacent island arrived and helped them find food such as fish and turtle as well as other indigenous fruits on the island.
    They were spotted a few days later by a search plane and rescued the following day.
    The crew was allowed to rest up in Sydney, Australia before back to work and flying 30 more missions in WWII.
    When he returned to action, Schuldt said flying over the oil fields in Borneo was tough work.
    “The Japanese would fly through their own ack ack,” Schuldt said. “You never knew what was going to happen. About half of the planes we flew with were shot down. You just hoped it wouldn’t happen to you.”
    After WWII ended, Schuldt was faced with the decision to leave the Air Force or stay in as a non-flying member. He chose to stay in and was stationed in Newfoundland for three years during the Cold War. He was working at radar stations as part of the famous Pinetree Line.
    “I did that until I got sick of it,” he said. Thanks to his tour being over in six months, he was able to opt out of his squadron’s assignment on Resolution Island north of the Arctic Circle.
    But when the Korean Conflict began, the Air Force was short of pilots and Schuldt returned to the air – this time in the jet-propelled B-47.
    He said navigating the jet was difficult since there were no computers or satellites to guide them.
    “”We just shot stars to plot our course,” Schuldt said. “In 10 minutes, you would go 70 miles so it was very hard to stay on course. Sometimes planes headed to England would end up in Spain or Scotland. Luckily, that never happened to me.”
    He said the B-47 also gave pilots trouble when they landed. The wings on the huge jet could flex more than 30 feet.
    “You landed it like riding a bicycle,” Schuldt said. “Of course, I had a lot of experience doing that.”
    During Vietnam, he was back in the air. He flew many missions in Vietnam and retired from the Air Force in 1970.
    But he was anything but grounded. Schuldt took a job flying a Citation all over the world chasing drug smugglers through the air.
    “I wasn’t worried when we were in the air,” he said. “But the real trouble started when we landed.”
    Page 3 of 3 - Schuldt finally left customs 22 years later. When he did, he was faced with the decision of where to live in retirement.
    That brought him to Augusta. He knew he didn’t want to move back home to Iowa where the winters were so cold. He also didn’t want to move back to California. A lot of his work had brought him through McConnell AFB south of Wichita. When he began looking for homes around the base, they found their house in Augusta and it had everything they wanted.
    The Schuldts have lived happily on that quiet street for the past 18 years. Schuldt recently broke his hip in a fall.
    But a man who has had to shoot out a tire on his landing gear because one had already blown out on takeoff won’t be slowed down by that kind of injury. He is already back up and going strong.
    Each year, the list of men he served with in WWII shrinks. The reunion photos show fewer and fewer faces.
    But Schuldt has great memories of his long and exciting career and he is proud of the life he lived and the country he served. Give the chance, he would do it all again.
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