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.
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.”