SCHERERVILLE – Scenes of a 97-year-old man’s life play out as vividly described memories he shares with family and friends. A common theme among the times of a once-athletic youth, a wounded World War II soldier and a resourceful family man and business owner are a sense of determination and faith.
Philip Schouten, who resides with his granddaughter, her husband and their children in Schererville, keeps his practices as a Catholic as regular as a Swiss timepiece. He attends daily Mass at St. Michael the Archangel and, on Sunday, the family attend their home parish of St. John the Evangelist in St. John.
“I never lost faith in what my mother’s principles were: tell the truth and know that God never gives you more than you can handle,” said Schouten, born in 1926 to Mary and John Schouten.
The Illinois native who grew up on the South Side of Chicago to a devout Dutch Catholic family, remains a prayer warrior at home. On Aug. 26, Schouten sat in his wheelchair near the front row of bleachers to the right of the altar set up in the Bishop Noll Institute Fieldhouse in Hammond during the diocese’s Eucharistic Congress.
Some nearby “Inspiring Presence: A Eucharistic Encounter” participants noticed Schouten’s WWII Purple Heart baseball cap. Those who thanked him for his noticed that he is a double amputee. He has been that way since 1945.
“But I’m a happy person,” he told a conference-goer.
Schouten spoke lovingly of the strict upbringing of his parents, of the fact that four of the seven siblings are still alive (his brother Joe Schouten reaching 100 earlier this year), and that he is grateful that his granddaughter Jennifer Laurenti and right-hand-man and grandson-in-law Drew Laurenti and their three daughters “kill him with kindness.”
For decades, Schouten had moved himself by harnessing two prosthetic legs for which he “really built up my abdominal muscles.” He explained that his transportation accessibility issues were addressed when General Motors produced vehicles with hand-controlled pedals.
The accommodations, however, don’t change the fact that Schouten’s world was turned upside down when he was 19.
“(President) FDR established the draft and I was called a day or two after my (18th) birthday,” Schouten explained about his summons to the Army.
He said he found it hard to adjust to “learning to kill, when we had always been taught to love. Wars are made by the devil … so we got in the war, and our whole economy changed.”
The U.S. and allied forces determined that they would need to capture islands near Japan to create airstrips from which to launch the attacks they hoped would end the war. Moving closer to Okinawa aboard various ships, Schouten’s survival mode kicked in.
“We come landing on the beaches and we were dead ducks,” Schouten recalled. “Seeing what was happening, I laid down so the bullets wouldn’t hit me. And I got away with it until the dark and (then) I got back with my organization.”
He continued, giving details about his impending injury. “I don’t know if I got hit with a Japanese knee mortar or if I stepped on a mine. I remember my right leg – which is now a short stub of five inches – was blown away and I could see it lying there yet. The other one was mangled and they had to amputate above the knee.”
Schouten credits the quick and brave actions of Army medics, “I got excellent field service from the medics. They saved my life.”
He also said that he never surrendered to a “negative attitude.”
The continuum of care included prayers by an Irish chaplain. The priest obliged the recovering soldier by singing to him (by memory) the classic song, “Danny Boy.”
After additional rehabilitation at the Kellogg facilities in Battle Creek, Mich., Schouten returned to the Roselawn neighborhood where he attended St. Willibrord Catholic School from elementary grades through junior and senior high school.
He was determined to make a living working as his own boss. He furthered his education and earned his certification as an accountant. Of his firm, he said every client could expect “110% service.”
The disabled veteran also developed a social life, which included participation in a bowling league. There he met the future Mrs. Dorothy Schouten and, after six months, the two were married in 1955.
“If you knew Dorothy, you’d love her, too,” Schouten said. “She was all heart.”
Because of his war injuries, Schouten was not able to produce natural children with his wife. He recalled her understandingly saying, “That’s okay,” regarding infertility.
Dorothy Schouten’s previous occupational connection to St. Vincent Hospital in Chicago “where the police dropped off abandoned babies and neglected youth,” was a connection that would help them bring together a family.
“They got (orphanage director) Sister Elizabeth’s okay … then six months later they called and said they had a little girl by the name of Gwendelyn.”
The Schoutens adopted five children, each with a disability. Providing them with all the opportunities of other children, they each learned to live independently. Gwendelyn is now 65.
His wife Dorothy passed away in 2016.
Of his siblings, two became missionary priests and two religious sisters.
Schouten’s travels in recent decades included being a part of a Hero Flight to Washington, D.C. and joining an Opus Dei group that traveled to Rome in 2002, “Where I was able to shake hands with Pope John Paul II.”
The man who has witnessed nearly a century of human history, believes that God still has a plan for this country and for the world. “God loves us all,” Schouten said.
Yet he is concerned that gone are the times when neighbors looked out for one another, and when civic duty included keeping Christian values in the public square.
“We are right now in a whirlwind going downhill,” Schouten said. “I’m concerned about our faith and our country. The family structure is almost gone.”
Schouten often reminisces about the security of his family home on Yale Street. Tearing up for the first time in the discussion of his life, he spoke of his goals for the future.
“To answer that sincerely, I want to go home to Jesus ... but my family wants me to live to 100,” said Schouten.
Caption: Ninety-seven-year-old Philip J. Schouten (front, second from right) of Schererville is gathered with grandchildren, great-grandchildren and in-laws at the Inspiring Presence event at Bishop Noll Institute in Hammond on Aug. 26. Schouten, a WWII Purple Heart recipient and double amputee, participated at the diocesan conference, which included Mass presided over by Bishop Robert J. McClory, Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and presentations by guest speakers including author Dr. Scott Hahn. (Anthony D. Alonzo photo)