Note: This is an updated version of a post I wrote for a cycling blog I maintained when I was racing mountain bikes more regularly than I am now. Feel free to check out the original 2013 post here.
I like to ride bicycles, both for transportation purposes, and in the competitive arena. Specifically, I used to regularly race mountain bike throughout Indiana and the Midwest. One of the more convenient training sites is Fort Ben Harrison, where the Hoosier Mountain Bike Association ("HMBA"), in partnership with the park, built several miles of multi use trail in 2012-2013. One of the trails is called Schoen Creek Trail.
The namesake is easy enough, as there is a small creek which flows through the area the trail traverses called Schoen Creek. However, who is this Schoen? A comment on the HMBA forums several years ago mentioned that Schoen was a fighter pilot around World War I. This rang a bell, since a prior research project of mine was locating old airfields around Indianapolis. During this research I had run across a reference to an Army airfield adjacent to Fort Ben called Schoen Field which dated back to the pre-World War II era of the Army Air Corp. At the time, I didn't delve much farther into this Schoen.
Not long after this, I was riding my bike around Crown Hill Cemetery when I caught this out of the corner of my eye:
The Karl J. Schoen was clearly from the right time period as the reputed source of the name of the creek and airfield, and the service history noted on the marker also matched.
Turns out Karl Schoen was an Indianapolis native, born in October 1894. He graduated from Purdue in 1917 and married Maurene Luft on May 13, 1917. The wedding announcement noted that he was to leave the next day for Fort Ben Harrison for reserve officers training. Apparently the wedding had been planned for June but had been pushed up due to his military training. Schoen was commissioned as a lieutenant and joined the Army Air Service where he received flight training before being sent to the Western Front in France in February 1918 as part of the 139th Aero Squadron. During his service, he shot down six German aircraft, although the final two were claimed during a dog fight in which he too was shot down, resulting in his death.
The circumstances of Schoen's death on October 29, 1918 was a thing of legend. A US soldier posted to an ammunition dump wrote to Schoen’s mother and described the low level dogfight which claimed his life. This detailed account was later published in the Indianapolis Star.
Apparently the Germans attacked the dump with three fighters and Schoen and a wingman engaged all three. One German fighter was shot down, as was Schoen’s wingman. He was outnumbered and outgunned, and as the fight neared an end, his aircraft’s machine gun jammed. The observer said that he could see Schoen then pull out his service revolver and continue to fire at the enemy aircraft.
Ultimately Schoen was hit and as his fighter went towards the ground, he continued to fire the pistol at the German aircraft. The writer noted that when American forces arrived at the wreck sight to recover Schoen’s body, they found him still clutching the revolver. In recognition of his fight that day, Schoen was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross in 1919.
Interestingly, the grave in the above photo at Crown Hill is likely not the final resting place for Lt. Schoen, but merely a marker, so he could be included along with the rest of the family. His remains are actually interred at the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery in France, with many other American causalities from the first world war. Thanks to www.theaerodrome.com, here is his marker in France:
Lt. Schoen’s widow and 10 month old daughter lived at 5201 N. College Ave, the location of the present day Habig garden store, at the time of his death.
The airfield that bore his name was opened in May 1922. The field itself was little more than a grass field with several hangers, and was deactivated soon after, World War II. The US Department of Defense Finance and Accounting Center located on the southwest corner of E. 56th St and Post Road in Lawrence Indiana now occupies that land. In 1922 a plaque in honor of Schoen was dedicated at the Meridian Height Presbyterian Church.