One of the most recognized smiles in Beauregard Parish belongs to this LSU Alumnus Merlin Schales.
Schales grew up in the late forties and early fifties on the family farm near Sugartown.
Back then if your parents owned a farm you didn’t have to worry about getting a job because you already had one.
So it was with Schales. He grew up as a “student farmer.”
That’s a fancy name for a kid that gets out of bed before the sun comes up, does the chores, rides a school bus to school, attends class until three o’clock, then rides a bus home, changes clothes and then works until after dark in the fields.
One of the greatest influences on Schales’ life was the school principal at Sugartown, Frank Hennigan.
Hennigan always tried to encourage his students to do their very best at whatever they chose to do with their life.
He always said that everyone should give back to their nation and community so that those that followed could also enjoy the fruits that a true democracy could offer to its citizens.
In 1958 Schales graduated from Sugartown High School with grades good enough to get into Louisiana State University.
Of course, Schales was happy to head down to LSU in Baton Rouge; anything to get him “ off the farm” sounded good to him.
After attending LSU, Schales remembered what Hennigan (now Superintendent of Education) had told him about giving back to his country.
With that in mind, Schales got an appointment with a US Navy Recruiter.
The Navy Recruiter gave Schales a series of test and guaranteed that with his grades he would be sent to Naval Aviation School after Basic Training.
Schales was sent to the largest US Navy Recruit Training Facility which was located in San Diego, California.
According to Seaman Schales, Basic Training was easy compared to farm life back home. Often his training officer would allow him and his other mates to lay in their bunks until after five o’clock in the morning.
Schales said that he always enjoyed a brisk three-mile run, sometimes four, before he and his mates enjoyed a full breakfast buffet.
Back Home in Sugartown Schales had played basketball, so a couple of hours of Physical Training Exercise early in the salty morning air only whittled his appetite for lunch.
After lunch, all the recruits were given almost a whole hour to rest and even take a little nap. Schales often thought how easy he had it compared to being back home working in the glaring sun and humid heat in his daddy’s watermelon or cotton fields.
Of course, Seaman Schales learned all that was required of him to succeed in the Navy and soon graduated from Basic Training.
By now the political world had focused its attention on the “Iron Curtain “ which had separated East Germany from West Germany and The Cold War was in full force.
Never the less, just as he was promised by his Navy Recruiter, Schales was sent from San Diego to Naval Air Technical Training Center Olathe (NATTC Olathe) located near Gardner, Kansas which served as a training center for active duty USN and USMC enlisted personnel.
After completing Aviation School at NATTC, Schales received orders to report to Naval Air Station Jacksonville.
NAS-JAX is a military airport, eight miles south of the central business district of Jacksonville, Florida, United States.
NAS Jacksonville and Naval Station Mayport are the two naval bases in Duval County.
Here Schales received further training on the McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II which was a tandem two-seat, twin-engine, all-weather, long-range supersonic jet interceptor and fighter-bomber originally developed for the United States Navy by McDonnell Aircraft.
It first entered service in 1960 with the U.S. Navy. Proving highly adaptable, it was also adopted by the U.S. Marine Corps and the U.S. Air Force, and by the mid-1960s had become a major part of their air wings.
After completing an almost two-year intensive training program on the F-4 and other US Navy aircraft Schales was transferred to the Naval Aviation NAS Kingsville which was located in Kleberg County, Texas, about 2 miles east of Kingsville in the south gulf coastal plains, about 45 miles from Corpus Christi.
The Naval Air Station's primary mission was to train tactical jet pilots for the United States Navy and Marine Corps.
An unlikely accident happened one day at NAS that changed Schales career as well as his life forever.
Schales was near a jet when someone accidentally backfired the engine. The supersonic noise ruptured Schales ear drum leaving him deaf in one ear.
Schales was sent to NAAS New Iberia, Louisiana where its primary flying unit, Advanced Training Unit-B moved from Naval Air Station Kingsville/South Field, Texas and was re-designated as Training Squadron TWENTY SEVEN (VT-27).
However, Schales career in Naval Aviation was over due to the accident that left him deaf in one ear and his enlistment was completed. After a debriefing, he was given an honorable discharge and returned to civilian life.
Once again Schales remembered what Hennigan had said about giving back to your community and country.
The desire to still serve in some capacity toughed at this young veteran’s heart and he became a Louisiana State Trooper where he served for almost a quarter of a century before retiring.
Retirement did not fit well with Schales.
Since he was already trained in law enforcement, Schales became a security officer at Phelps Correctional Center. Here he worked for another fourteen years.
Once again Schales retired to his home on Bundick lake to be with his wife Maxine.
Soon he started to miss serving his community. With the encouragement from family and friends, Schales successfully ran for a seat on the Beauregard Parish Police Jury and was elected to a four-year term.
After four years Schales decided that being a Police Juror was not his calling in life and he decided not to run for re-election.
Once again he retired to be at home with his wife Maxine.
Soon this old veteran became tired of fishing and all those “ honey do” jobs.
Schales once again decided to offer himself to his country by helping train troops at the JRTC facility at Ft. Polk where he is still employed.
In his free time, Schales still has enough hours set aside to keep up with Maxine’s “honey do list”, get in a little fishing and play with his grandchildren, now even his great grandkids.
He also is a member of the American Legion and enjoys making coffee call with other veterans and friends at the local DQ.
If you see Merlin Schales or any veteran, he would surely appreciate a handshake and acknowledgment of the sacrifice and the commitment veterans have made in the lofty endeavor of securing American liberty.
They are solely responsible for having protected our fortunate state of being free from oppressive restrictions imposed by authority on one’s way of life, behavior or political views. And that is a priceless act of service.