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The American Seaman and the German SS Officer—Together

A rare pairing of World War II veterans enthralls students—and teacher—in an 'intense' hour.

They fought on opposite sides of World War II, but a German Secret Service officer and a U.S. Seaman stood next to each other recently in a Santa Margarita Catholic classroom.

The octogenarians told tales and answered questions about the war to end all wars in Scott McIntosh’s World War II class. McIntosh, who has been teaching for 11 years and at Santa Margarita for 10, called it one of the top three classes he has ever had.  “It was pretty intense,” he said.

So intense that even after the bell rang for lunch, students remained glued to their seats for another 10 minutes.

At the center of attention were Dr. Werner Langer, 85, a lieutenant in the Waffen SS, and Ernesto "Ernie" Schimmer, 85, a Seaman First Class in the American Navy. They made two halves to a unique whole in a remarkable day in the classroom.

Schimmer was a Southern California kid. He graduated from Santa Monica High in 1943 and joined the U.S. Navy. He traveled throughout the Pacific and served as a powderman on the big gun of the U.S.S. Kalinin Bay. The escort carrier was the adjacent ship, in Tokyo Bay, to the U.S.S. Missouri on which Douglas MacArthur was among those who formally accepted the Japanese surrender on Sept. 2, 1945.

READ ABOUT THIS MEETING FROM A STUDENT'S PERSPECTIVE

Langer was 15 when he met German dictator Adolf Hitler, and he was in boot camp three years later. He was in special forces that laid low during the day and killed Russians at night. He was eventually captured and taken as a prisoner of war.

Langer emphasized that he was not a member of the Nazi party. “He got a little fired up about not being a Nazi now or then, but you’re pretty much thrust into what you’re going to do,” McIntosh said.

Langer was the real attraction. He converted to Christianity in 1957. A member of Hitler youth, McIntosh said “he spoke highly of Germany but he did not speak highly of Hitler."

Students said the two men “brought to life” a part of history they had been studying in the elective course. In the first semester McIntosh teaches about the Civil War, the second semester is devoted to WWII. For four years he has had veterans speak to the class, but it’s the first time he had someone who fought for the other side.

“I would say it’s definitely one of the top three classes of my career in the sense that you see the history come alive,” McIntosh said. “The very first time I had two World War II vets come in was pretty special. It was the first time I had ever heard them speak. But this is definitely up there.”

Though he may have been fighting on behalf of Germany almost seven decades ago, Langer had some good advice for those rapt audience members.

“Be proud Americans,” he said, “and stand up for your people.”

KC May 30, 2011 at 04:14 PM
Just a correction but SS didn't stand for Secret Service, it was Schutzstaffel or something similar to "Protection Squadron".
Brad McGirr May 30, 2011 at 06:21 PM
I don't know Mr. McIntosh personally, but he seems to be the kind of teacher that I wish had teaching me history back in high school. Kudos to Scott McIntosh for making history come alive for his students!
Martin Henderson (Editor) May 30, 2011 at 11:29 PM
Larry McCook deserves an assist here; he has been providing speakers the past few years for Mr. McIntosh. And I agree; I wish I had history classes that were as engaging. Although no substitute for the kind of first-person recollection described here, I feel fortunate to be able to access so many great history programs on television. History today could easily be taught from a DVD player.
LeAna Bui May 31, 2011 at 02:28 PM
Makes me wish I could have sat in on the class!
Burns May 31, 2011 at 08:14 PM
"the war to end all wars " was The Great War, later to be known as World War I.
Jack Leonard May 31, 2011 at 08:38 PM
help us understand why. No war is "Great", but I know the phrase remains with World War 1.
Jack Leonard May 31, 2011 at 08:40 PM
And ditto ! With our kids included in the discussion, LeAna! I wonder if it was recorded? Thank you Larry McCook for an unexpected and valued contribution to this community.
Burns May 31, 2011 at 09:50 PM
Certainly. The conflict that took place from 1914-18 involved the world’s great powers, assembled in opposing alliances, and up to that time, was the deadliest conflict in Western history. The depth of destruction and carnage, was idealistically thought, at the time, to be so horrible, no further war would ever be considered. “The Great War”, or “The First World War” thus became known as “The War To End All Wars”. 21 years later, a more horrible and deadly conflict broke out, along not dissimilar lines. Historians later revised the conflict name to “World War I”, followed by “World War II” (1939-45). I hope that provides a better understanding. Thank you.
Martin Henderson (Editor) May 31, 2011 at 10:56 PM
KC, you are correct. SS stood for Schutzstaffel which, as I understand it, began as Hitler's personal bodyguards ("protection squadron"?). I think it's a fair implication that they served as what readers today would recognize as the Secret Service.Thanks
Koldo June 01, 2011 at 01:58 AM
WWI was incredibly absurd when we learn the real reasons, not the official or propaganda versions for ignorants. Also was an absolut slaughter for all the parties involved; countries like Australia or New Zeland or Canada that had nothing to de there, but the warmonger of Churchill forced their PM's to join the UK, and happily signed without the knowledge and consent of their respective populations. Unbelievable!! Also is incredible that the same political phrases that we have today, were used in 1914(?). My respects for Dr. Werner Langer, a lot of desinformation has been poured over them since the end of the war.
Martin Henderson (Editor) June 01, 2011 at 03:34 AM
My history education in the 1970s was terrible. I'm grateful to people who can express things so clearly and understandably. Thanks, Burns.
James Schumaker June 02, 2011 at 04:31 PM
Maybe I'm from a different planet than the rest of the commenters here, but don't you find it a little unsettling that a former Waffen-SS officer was talking to young students without any background on what the SS was and what it did during World War II? Still worse, there is an implication of a false moral equivalence between an American sailor who served honorably in the Pacific Theater and a Waffen-SS officer. Nothing could be further from the truth. Initially, the SS was organized as a second layer of protection for Adolf Hitler, and only those who were racially pure (no Jewish ancestors) were admitted. In addition, SS members had to be in excellent physical shape and at least six feet tall. The SS was radically expanded during the Second World War, and entry requirements were relaxed of necessity. The mission of the SS also expanded. Members of the SS were responsible for overseeing mass executions of the racially unsuitable, and committed unspeakable atrocities against the Allies, including the execution of American prisoners of war. After 1945, the SS and the Nazi Party were banned in Germany as criminal organizations. The Waffen-SS, which Mr. Langer apparently entered in 1944, consisted of frontline combat units, but many of these units also committed horrific atrocities, particularly on the Eastern Front. Students should know that service in the Waffen-SS is not admirable in any way.
James Schumaker June 02, 2011 at 04:42 PM
Here is a Wikipedia link on the Waffen-SS that gives a pretty good summary of the organization and its activities. Note that it functioned as the armed wing of the SS, which itself was an organ of the Nazi Party. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Waffen-SS .
LeAna Bui June 02, 2011 at 09:10 PM
I'm not sure where anyone in these comments suggested they were admiring either of these soldiers. Lack of admiration in no way takes away from their potentially powerful message. Forget the propaganda, forget the political arguments, forgot "who said what" - these two men were in the battles, on opposing sides and some 70 years later can come together in a classroom to discuss their experiences with today's students of history. The perspective these two can provide (whether you like or agree with either one of them) is an extraordinary educational tool and I, for one, would have loved to have been able to listen in.
Brad McGirr June 02, 2011 at 10:12 PM
There is no denying the horrors inflicted by the SS, and the students should certainly be advised of this, but how is learning about WWII from a former SS officer and an American soldier the demonstration of "admiration" of either of the speakers? When there is a demonstration of the horrors of drunk driving, does that represent an "admiration" for drunk drivers? If a former drug addict counsels high school children about the evils of drug abuse, I hardly think that this would indicate that the students or faculty are "admiring" drug addicts. This seems to me to be a terrific method by which HISTORY can be taught to students. It has been said by Alex Haley that "history is written by the winners." How wonderful that these students have been provided the opportunity to learn something from both sides of a conflict that ended long before they, or their parents, were born. Kudos to Mr. McCook for his assistance in arranging for this presentation.
Shripathi Kamath June 09, 2011 at 01:57 AM
I find the appearance of presenting 'both sides' a little disturbing, especially when one of the sides is from the Waffen SS. "Langer emphasized that he was not a member of the Nazi party" I am incredulous at the emphatic denial. Did anyone in the class ask how it'd be possible for someone not in the Nazi party rise to the rank of a lieutenant in the Waffen SS? This the Waffen SS that Hitler groomed as an elite force. Wikipedia sometimes gets hacked to reinforce that Palin was right and Revere was wrong, but take a look at Mr. Schumaker's link. It does not add up. I have no issues that Mr. Langer is accepted as a reformed ex-war-criminal, but it is puzzling if not disingenuous to claim that he was never a Nazi member. I wonder how it'd go down if we got an ex- al Qaeda operative standing next to a NYPD policeman to present 'both sides' of 9/11. Would we have a discussion of the Holocaust with both sides presented? Maybe even a third side which would deny the Holocaust? Balance is good, raw footage is gripping, but should it at least be vetted to ensure that it is authentic? “he spoke highly of Germany but he did not speak highly of Hitler." Well, what do you think WW II Germany was? An overwhelmingly Christian nation that was supportive of Hitler and his actions, especially against the Jews, the rarity of a Schlindler, the obscure group on an NBC movie of the week, and Tom 'Valkyrie' Cruise notwithstanding. No one asked him these things?
Shripathi Kamath June 09, 2011 at 02:00 AM
I'd say that the planet has at least two inhabitants, James. Possibly unpopular ones, but I seem to share the same discomfort as you.
Shripathi Kamath June 09, 2011 at 02:01 AM
Thank you for reminding me that I misused the "War to end all Wars" incorrectly when I recently wrote an article about a WWII veteran.
James Schumaker June 09, 2011 at 05:07 PM
I would certainly agree that the truth needs to be spoken, if for no other reason than to help future generations avoid the mistakes of the past. I would have been a lot more comfortable, however, with the idea of an American sailor and a German soldier standing together to speak to a class of students if the German in question had been a member of the Wehrmacht and not the Waffen-SS. We've got to remember that at Nuremberg, the Waffen-SS was declared a criminal organization, and as such should not be considered as a moral or legal equal to a legitimate fighting force like the U.S. Navy.
Lawrence (Larry) McCook June 11, 2011 at 01:28 AM
I was in the classroom and found the two perspectives extremely interesting. Both men followed their superior officers orders which is true of all forces fighting today in the four Mid-East countries. There were many divisions of the Waffen SS and most of them were not involved in atrocities. There were Waffen SS ground troops in Norway and other countries and Lt. Werner Langer's division was sent to rescue German soldiers being held as POW's in Russia. He was held as a POW after the war in Austria and suffered harsh treatment including near starvation. Dr. Langer denounced Mein Kamph and converted to Christianity in 1954. He worked for years at The Crystal Cathedral. There are and always have been U.S. Armed Forces fighting under the command of both Democratic and Republican Commander In Chiefs. This did not make them Republican or Democratic Party Members. Germans were forced into military service and this did not make them all Nazis (National Socialists). This no defense of the WWII atrocities but, Dr Langer was not a Nazi and did not participate in any horrific acts against Jews.
Lawrence (Larry) McCook June 11, 2011 at 01:43 AM
I might add that the American Regiment and the opposing German Waffen SS Division, who fought against each other in Norway, have met in friendship for years (every other year) alternating between Chicago and Germany. There is no one in RSM more supportive than myself of The United States Military, our country, the protection of Jews and Israel.
James Schumaker June 11, 2011 at 03:39 PM
Could you be more specific? According to my records, no large American unit was ever deployed to Norway in wartime, although the OSS did conduct sabotage operations. One unit, the 99th Infantry Battalion, which fought in Normandy and the Ardennes, was later deployed to Norway to demobilize German occupation troops, but that was after the war was over. (http://www.minnesotanationalguard.org/history/assets/99thINFBN.doc ).
James Schumaker June 11, 2011 at 03:52 PM
I wasn't present during Mr. Langer's presentation, and have no special knowledge about his personal history, but I do think that more investigation is merited. According to the Patch story, Langer said he was in "special forces that laid low in the day and killed Russians at night." That doesn't sound like a POW rescue unit to me, but more like a hunter-killer unit. To evaluate further the truth of Mr. Langer's statements, we would need to know his exact unit designation and the combat history of that unit on the Eastern Front.
Lawrence (Larry) McCook June 11, 2011 at 07:20 PM
I was given a drinking glass embossed by the American unit and the German counterpart (Norway Encounter) presented to attendees at one of their two year meetings. I will have to dig around in the garage to answer your question. I read your entire indicated website and it indicated that only one Waffen SS group was assigned to concentration camp duty. Thanks for sharing. Let us hope that these atrocities never occur again! Also, do not ever let us forget the genocide of Armenians, Yugoslavians, Bulgarians and Africans. What sordid history!
Jason Frisbie June 18, 2011 at 04:42 AM
Keep in mind that that our own moral and legal fighting force made it a habit to summarily execute any German prisoners that had an SS insignia, paybook or even a camoflage uniform. The largest majority of Waffen SS troops were elite front line soldiers many of whom fought with great bravery. To hear an SS officer talk of his war experiences from 70 years ago is not going to indocrinate children into the Hitlerjugend but could indeed give them some real perspective on the opposing sides mindset and how they got to where they were.
James Schumaker June 18, 2011 at 05:13 PM
U.S. troops did summarily execute some SS troops, particularly snipers, spies (such as the Germans dressed in American uniforms during the Battle of the Bulge), and concentration camp guards. From the evidence I have seen, in almost all cases this punishment was fully merited. With regard to Mr. Langer, I do not object to debriefing a Waffen SS officcer on his experiences. I do object to the false moral equivalency that is implied when you put a U.S. sailor and a member of the Waffen SS on the stage together. To repeat, the Waffen SS was declared a criminal organization at Nuremberg, and its members do not deserve the honor normally accorded to soldiers who fight for their country.
Dan Avery August 24, 2011 at 05:01 AM
My dad served in the Navy during WWII and I bet he would have enjoyed the two soldiers. War is an awful thing and people do awful things on all sides during a war. Passions run high. I am in no way excusing the German leadership. But after 9/11 a lot of us were more than willing to toss away a lot of our freedoms; there are very active groups today that would still limit our freedoms and turn back the strides of the civil rights movement. People do stupid, stupid things in dire times. And it's always the leaders, the politicians, the power-hungry that lead people astray and make them hate "the other." If the students learned nothing but that lesson about people, Mr. McCook has truly done kids a great favor and our society a great service by giving up an hour of his class time.
Lawrence (Larry) McCook August 24, 2011 at 05:49 AM
Dan, Thank you for the nice comments. My father also served during WWII as a Corpsman in the U.S. Army and afterward in the U.S. American Legion . I have been driving WWII veterans around Orange County to speak at schools for a number of years. We lost two of these outstanding veterans last December. One was a highly decorated USAAF Major P-38 fighter pilot and the other a Master Chief in the USN who was assigned to a special mission in Africa for the OSS. I continue to miss these two true heroes tremendously. Larry
homogenius February 05, 2012 at 08:36 PM
I would take anything Werner Langer says with a grain of salt. He is a liar, a conman, and a thief. He never worked at the Crystal Cathedral--he volunteered as an usher. The IRS confiscated the proceeds from the sale of his house because he went years without paying his taxes. I have no respect for someone who comes to this country and doesn't pay his fair share. Anyone who has talked politics with him will tell you that he's still a Nazi and he defends the Nazi regime saying "they did many good things". His anti-Semitism is barely beneath the surface and he says things like "you really have to admire those Jews". He's virulently homophobic and anti-immigrant. He puts on a good show for people, but he's nothing but a washed up insurance salesman.
Andrew DuMont May 18, 2012 at 04:02 AM
I have to agree with Mr. Schumaker. If you served in the Waffen (armed) SS, you were generally an idealogue and a fanatic as a German. Later in the war their were SS units from other countries and standards were relaxed. If you were a somewhat regular guy in Germany, just following orders or protecting your homeland, there was always the regular army (Heer). To be a German in the Waffen SS meant you were the utmost commited to the nazi cause, even if you weren't a card carrying member. He should be ashamed of himself.

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