Medal of Honor recipient from Civil War era finally gets military burial

'Long overdue' military ceremony for Medal of Honor recipient who fought in Civil War

With dozens of American flags snapping in the breeze, a "long overdue" ceremony was held Thursday in San Diego to honor a Civil War-era soldier described as a "previously unsung hero."

The remains of Army Sgt. Charles Schroeter, a German immigrant who fought in the Civil War and received the Medal of Honor during the Indian Wars, were transferred to the Miramar National Cemetery.

Since 1921, the urn with Schroeter's ashes had languished in obscurity at a local cemetery, with no recognition that he had received his adopted country's highest medal for combat bravery.

After a ceremony replete with an Army band, horse-drawn hearse, speeches and other honors, Schroeter became the first Medal of Honor recipient to be buried at the Miramar cemetery, which was dedicated in 2010.

For more than three decades, Schroeter served in the Army and later the Marine Corps. He was awarded the Medal of Honor for a battle against Apaches in 1869 in Arizona.

Born in 1833 or 1837 -- records disagree -- Schroeter immigrated to the U.S. in 1860. In 1863 he joined the 1st Volunteer Missouri Cavalry, which battled Confederate forces in Arkansas.

"It's hard to imagine a more difficult time to serve our country than when Sgt. Schroeter served," Army Brig. Gen. Joseph Martin told the several hundred people in attendance at the ceremony.

"It was a time when troops rode for miles on horseback or marched on foot ... a world where disease and the environment were just as deadly, or more so, than the enemy due to the medical treatments of the day and harsh living conditions."

As if addressing Schroeter, Martin said, "On behalf of a grateful nation, may you find this new place of rest to be the home of honor you rightly deserve."

After retiring from the military, Schroeter lived in Buffalo, N.Y., and then in San Diego. A lifelong bachelor, he had no relatives to claim his ashes after a funeral ceremony by his fellow Masons.

Schroeter served honorably and bravely - including being wounded - "only to end up in the darkness of an unmarked grave," said Douglas Ledbetter, director of the Miramar National Cemetery.

The urn was left with other unclaimed urns at Greenwood Memorial Park. 

"Sgt. Schroeter's remains might have been lost to history -- and to us -- had it not been for the Congressional Medal of Honor Society," said Dennis Schoville, president and chief executive of the Miramar National Cemetery Support Foundation.

The privately run society tries to establish the burial place of Medal of Honor recipients to ensure that they were properly honored. The burial locations of several hundred of the nation's 3,500-plus recipients of the Medal of Honor are unknown.

Schroeter was traced to Buffalo and San Diego; property and other records were cross-referenced with military records. Through the efforts of researchers at several like-minded organizations, the Department of Veterans Affairs agreed to provide a reburial ceremony at Miramar.

Active-duty soldiers from Ft. Irwin in San Bernardino County and sailors from San Diego were in attendance. So were two Medal of Honor recipients from the Vietnam War: John Baca, who served in the Army, and Jay Vargas, a Marine.

Civil War re-enactors attended, as did members of the Patriot Guard Riders, a private group whose motorcycle-riding members, many of them combat veterans, often attend military funerals.

At the end of the 35-minute ceremony, by happenstance, three F/A-18s from nearby Marine Corps Air Station Miramar screamed overhead on takeoff, as if to supply a respectful sendoff.

Twitter: @latsandiego

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