They have been called America’s greatest generation – the men and women who sacrificed everything and went off to fight for freedom in World War II.
Former Connellsville High School star athlete John “Wally” Schroyer was a part of the great generation – he starred on the football field and the basketball court and in track – but answered the call when
Schroyer was a devastating fullback on some great Connellsville teams in the early 1940’s – that featured a high powered backfield of halfbacks Johnny Lujack and Dave Hart and quarterback Alfred “Bizz” Bieshada.
“That was quite a backfield,” Schroyer said. “Lujack went on to win the Heisman Trophy at Notre Dame and Hart went to Georgia and ended up in service and came back to captain the St. Vincent team that played in the Tangerine Bowl in 1946.”
Connellsville under Coach Art Ruff put together some outstanding teams when Schroyer was in school all building toward his senior season in 1941. As a sophomore Schroyer’s Cokers posted a 7-3-1 mark. His junior season they went 6-3-1 and in his senior campaign they powered their way to an undefeated 8-0-1 slate.
“We were very competitive during those years,” Schroyer recalled. “We didn’t have enough Gardner points to get into the playoffs. We had a game cancelled against Johnstown, which would have helped us with Gardner points and Johnstown wound up beating Mt. Lebanon for the Class AA title 7-0.”
Schroyer has a great deal of admiration for former Coker football boss Ruff.
“What a great coach, what a great coach,” Schroyer gushed. “He just passed away a few years ago at the age of 92. He was a tough guy. He was a very fair coach. He was coached by the great Jock Sutherland at Pitt and graduated in 1936.
“He came to Connellsville in 1937 to be the assistant coach and became head coach in 1938. He was very successful and came back after the war and coached until 1950.”
One of the highlight’s of the 1941 season was the 54-0 defeat Connellsville handed Uniontown – rolling up 434 yards of offense.
“Abe Everhart Sr. was the Uniontown coach at that time,” Schroyer stated. We scored 310 points and only allowed 37 in nine games that season. I played fullback on offense and linebacker on defense.”
Brownsville won the WPIAL title in 1940 and the Vikings played spoiler in 1941 when they tied Connellsville 13-13 and knocked the Cokers out of any chance to advance to the WPIAL playoffs, despite 20 carries and 133 yards rushing by Schroyer.
“Brownsville was tough,” Schroyer explained. “It was a tough game and we out gained them and out played them, but it was just one of those nights. The funny thing about it was we beat Uniontown 54-0 and Uniontown beat Brownsville that year and maybe we thought we had that game in the bag.”
Schroyer also played basketball and excelled in track in high school.
“I won the Penthalon in 1942,” Schroyer offered. “I won the Tri-State Penthalon at Pitt Stadium and Lujack was the runner-up in that event.”
The Cokers were successful on the hardwood and won the Section Nine title in Schroyer’s junior and senior seasons.
“We captured the section two years in a row,” Schroyer remembered. “We had a playoff for the section my senior year and beat them 36-33 at the Pavilion underneath Pitt Stadium. We lost the first game in the WPIAL playoffs to Monessen both years.
“It was very disappointing, but it was just one of those nights both times and we just couldn’t get it in the bucket. Bill Dolde was the coach and he was assisted by Ed Spotts and we played in a little bandbox of a gym back then.”
Schroyer was named the fullback on the All-County team as a senior and was on the All WPIAL team and garnered third team All-State honors.
Schroyer and his teammate Lujack were highly sought after college recruits after they graduated in 1942.
After originally opting for Notre Dame he decided to go to Penn State.
“I decided to go there because I liked Coach Bob Higgins,” Schroyer explained. “Bob Higgins didn’t do too much coaching, but he had some good assistants.”
Schroyer played one season for the Nittany Lions during the 1942 season. PSU posted a 6-1-1 record.
“I played quarterback at Penn State – not the T-formation, but the blocking quarterback,” Schroyer stated. “We lost one game that year – we had an all freshman backfield, Joe Colone, Larry Joe, Bobby Williams and me.
“We lost to West Virginia that year – it was our only loss. We played a game at Cornell that still is an NCAA record – there were 52 punts in the game.”
In December of 1942 Schroyer enlisted in the reserve corps and was allowed to finish his first year at Penn State. He then reported for duty and went south to train.
Schroyer saw action in North Africa and was wounded and captured during the Allies landing at Anzio.
“We hit the beaches at Anzio on January 22,” Schroyer remembered. “On the second night the British were on the outskirts of Rome. We didn’t take Rome until June 4th.
“It was – was slaughter on both sides. That’s where I got hit.
“I was shot seven times and I was captured. The good Lord was with me. I had an experience when I was hit – a German captain came over – I had dived in a hole and he sprayed it and got me. He came over and asked if I could walk, and I said I couldn’t. He said I’ll get you some help.
“He got four captured GI’s that weren’t wounded. They brought me over and threw me up on a German tank. In the meantime our artillery found out they had broken our lines and they were laying down a barrage and I thought I was going to get killed by our own artillery.
“The last kid to leave who had put me on the tank patted me on the shoulder and said – ‘everything is going to ok Wally’. Wally is my nickname and I looked down and it was a kid that I had graduated with.”
Schroyer lost his right leg and was a prisoner of war for 13 months and was repatriated through Switzerland in exchange for a wounded German prisoner.
Schroyer had a bad amputation and had a lot of scar tissue and had to have four revisions on that leg after he was discharged.
He went back to school after being discharged in August of 1945 – he returned to Penn State in September. His leg started to breakdown. Fayette County commissioner Bill Graham called and said come home and go to work.
Schroyer worked 40 years in county government as chief county assessor and then was register of wills for 28-years. He spent a lot of time coaching youth baseball and football for many years. Schroyer retired in 1992.
Schroyer never brooded about his situation or what might have been.
“I don’t think of it too much,” he offered. “I got my mind pretty well set in a German camp – walking and getting ready to be discharged – I thought no sense in worrying about it and I just did the best I could.”
Schroyer, 87, who still resides in Connellsville was married for 56-years to the late Jane Ann Herbert and they had a son John and a daughter Kim and four grandchildren.