Retired Army Lieutenant Colonel Dennis Schroader Sr. is the founder of the Price of Freedom Foundation, a 501c3 organization dedicated to telling the life stories of those who paid the ultimate price for our freedom.
Dennis was born into a military family in 1956, moving many times until he entered high school. He went to college on an Army ROTC scholarship and subsequently began his own 24-year military career as a Medical Service Corps officer, retiring at the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.
Dennis held various management roles in several companies since his military retirement, most recently with AmerAssist and Chamberlain University.
Dennis and his wife Penny moved to White House, Tennessee, in January 2016 and plan to make it their home for the foreseeable future.
Dennis has five adult children and eleven grandchildren.
Dennis holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology from Seattle University and a Master of Education from the University of Puget Sound.
Links & Resources
- Price of Freedom Foundation
- Price of Freedom Foundation on Facebook
- Price of Freedom Foundation on LinkedIn
- Price of Freedom Foundation on Instagram
- Price of Freedom Foundation on YouTube
Scott DeLuzio: 00:00:03 Thanks for tuning in to the Drive On Podcast where we talk about issues affecting Veterans after they get out of the military. Before we get started, I'd like to ask a favor if you haven't done so already, please rate and review the show on Apple podcasts. If you've already done that, thank you. These ratings help the show get discovered so it can reach a wider audience. And while you're there, click the subscribe button so that you get notified of new episodes as soon as they come out. If you don't use Apple podcasts, you can visit DriveOnPodcast.com/subscribe to find other ways of subscribing, including our email list. I'm your host, Scott DeLuzio and now let's get on with the show. Hi, everybody. Today my guest is Dennis Schroeder. Dennis is an Army Veteran and founder of the Price of Freedom Foundation, which is a nonprofit whose goal is to tell the stories of those
Scott DeLuzio: 00:00:55 who've paid the ultimate price for our freedom. This is a cause, as a Gold Star brother, someone who's lost, (I’ve lost my brother) overseas and, serving our country and this is a cause that is near and dear to my heart. And so, I'm excited to have Dennis on the show today to talk about his foundation and the importance of sharing the stories of some of our fallen soldiers. So welcome to the show, Dennis, why don't you tell us a little bit about yourself and your background.
Dennis Schroader: 00:01:27 Well, thank you very much, Scott. It's an honor and a pleasure to be here with you today. My own journey started, basically at my birth. I was born into a Navy family. My father was an enlisted man, machinist in the Navy. I was born at the Oakland Naval hospital, the Oakland Naval hospital, which is, which is no longer, but I spent my childhood years, on Navy bases and at my mother’s family’s, place in Southeastern Montana when my father would be out at sea. So, I moved around a lot. My father retired when I entered high school and I had visions of joining the Navy myself, after high school, but I had a defective color vision, I discovered. And so, the Navy said I could be a Marine. And, that really wasn't what I had in mind at the time.
Dennis Schroader: 00:02:24 I do have a great deal of love and respect for my Marine friends and colleagues. But that wasn't the path I wanted to go. So, I was fortunate that the Army offered me an ROTC scholarship to college, and I began what turned out to be a total of 24 years in the Army as a Medical Service Corps Officer, serving at the 24th infantry division. The 9th infantry division spent some time as an advisor to National Guard medical units, spent some time recruiting doctors for the Army, for the Surgeon General when they had that mission themselves, was executive officer for a reserve hospital at Backfield Madigan Army Medical Center, was the chief of Army reserves at Trip Army Medical Center. I retired and 11 years later, the Army asked me to come back for two years, which I did up at Fort Knox with 11th Aviation Command. And, it actually went by much faster than I ever imagined it would. I have a son who served a term of enlistment in the Air Force and a daughter who served eight years in the Army Reserves. So, I have an entire family history of military service. And I'm one of those guys that if they would let old guys like me still serve, I'd still be in uniform today.
Scott DeLuzio: 00:04:03 That's great. Yeah. And it's great to see your family history too, with the military, between the Navy and the Army and Air Force it seems like you've got your family line has the branches pretty well covered. We'll have to get someone, maybe a grandchild someday in the space force.
Dennis Schroader: 00:04:26 There you go. Absolutely.
Scott DeLuzio: 00:04:29 So, let's talk a little bit about the Price Of Freedom Foundation. When we spoke the other day, you told me a little bit of a funny story about how the foundation got started, through a conversation that you had, it kind of started as an idea and it turned into something more. So, would you mind sharing that story?
Dennis Schroader: 00:04:48 I'd be happy to? Well, the idea really started many years ago when I was retired initially, and we were involved in the Wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. And I was seeing periodically that we would get some positive press, telling the stories of people who had served and who had given their life in service to our nation and publications like GQ and in Esquire magazine. And I was happy that I saw those kinds of attributes being made, but at the same time, as I was reading those, I was asking myself, well, what about all of the others? There are many others that never got that attention. None of those families ever got that recognition for the sacrifice that their loved one had made and this percolated for some time within me.
Dennis Schroader: 00:05:49 And I had this idea that we've got the technology available today to collect and capture those stories far better than we ever have had in history. And though there's an expense associated with that, it's come down, but it's still not something that every person can do because they just can't afford it. But I believe that those who paid the ultimate price, that they deserve to have their lives remembered and their stories told. And so, I was kicking this idea around and I was having a conversation with a colleague of mine, who's a retired, female Marine Corps Drill Sergeant. And because I wanted to get some feedback, I was thinking there had to be somebody else that was already doing this and I couldn't find anybody.
Dennis Schroader: 00:06:51 And so I was trying to get some confirmation or get some ideas back. And I was tossing this idea around with her over dinner. And she said, love the idea, Dennis, now get off your ass and make it happen. And that's what I love about my Marine friends. It's like, they don't pull punches. So, at the time I was working for a college of nursing and I was traveling, eight, nine States. 90% of the time I was on the road. I didn't have the time to put into it. I had no background in book publishing or video production. I just had this idea; well, a few months after that conversation, the job that I had with the university went away and now I have the time. And so, I took her advice and started doing my research and started to talk to people back before we were restricted from in-person networking events.
Dennis Schroader: 00:07:56 I lived near Nashville and, so I attended different things after hours and spoke about this idea and eventually found enough people that were willing to be on my board of directors that we could actually form the organization. So, this organization was started officially in April of 2019. And we've slowly been able to put the pieces together so that we have a process that we can follow to actually begin this journey of telling the stories of people who’ve made that sacrifice for us.
Scott DeLuzio: 00:08:45 Yeah, that's great. And I do like the straightforwardness of those people in the military, especially the Marines. Don't just think about it. Don't just talk about it, go out and do it. And that's what you did. It's good that you got that little bit of motivation. It seems like the idea was percolating in the back of your head anyways, but you know, it was something that got you going. So, what is it to you that makes it so important to tell these stories of the people who have made this sacrifice for our country?
Dennis Schroader: 00:09:29 Well, I think that what makes it important to me is that as a nation, we have been founded on certain principles of certain values that we have, and all my lifetime that there's been a culture of respecting the people who serve, I mean, that's kind of ebbed and flowed over the decades that I've been alive, but that has always resonated with me. And I've many times been to funerals. And it's like, okay, we memorialize that person during that ceremony and that service, but what do we leave for the families? And what do we have that we can share as a community, as a nation after that's over. And there really isn't a whole lot. It just seemed to me that these families deserve a little bit more than what they currently get.
Dennis Schroader: 00:10:40 And I was especially concerned initially, for the children. When you go to funerals, there are a lot of folks that the kids that are 10 years old or younger; they'll be polite, but they're not going to remember anything. They don't have a collection of pictures and the stories that people have told during that service for them to look back on years later. And that's really been reflected in the case that we’re starting to tell right now. The first story that we're telling is of a machinist mate in the Navy, who two years prior to reaching his 20-year service mark and being able to retire, was lost at sea off the USS Kitty Hawk between Japan and Korea.
Dennis Schroader: 00:11:44 And the person that I spoke with about this was a Gold Star daughter. She was 10 years old at the time. She has a younger sister who was five at the time. And the younger sister has no memories at all really of her father. And part of what we're going to be doing for them is collecting stories from people that they don't have contact with and being able to piece together elements of their father's life, that as a child they really didn't know. And now as adults, they are very much interested in knowing; and so, this is something that I think is going to be extremely valuable to them. I think there's also another purpose that we serve and that is for those families that have lost somebody, that six months to a year after the service member has died
Dennis Schroader: 00:12:44 almost universally, they have the sense that their loved one has been forgotten, that their sacrifices no longer honored. Right? And so, if we can get these stories about the lives of their fallen loved ones, tell them in a way that's truthful, that's honoring, that's focused on who this person was, what motivated them, what were their hopes, their dreams, their aspirations, the things that they accomplished, the things that they struggled with, you're telling that whole, that 360-degree picture of this person to an audience that is larger than that family can possibly reach themselves. And from the perspective of a third party, I am convinced that we will be directly addressing that specific issue for them.
Scott DeLuzio: 00:13:41 Yeah. And to that last point you know, where the families get that sense of their loved ones being forgotten six months to a year after they passed away, and as a Gold Star brother, which I mentioned that I was earlier, I remember the day that I returned back to the U.S. from Afghanistan. So, my brother and I both were in Afghanistan at the same time. When I got back, there were a line of news vans that lined our street outside of my parents' house. They were just waiting for an interview. Somehow, they knew I was coming home that day and they were waiting for an interview. My first thought was to tell them to just take a hike. I wanted nothing to do with talking to those people.
Scott DeLuzio: 00:14:25 And I just felt like they were being vultures and they were just in it to get this quick story a couple of quick sound bites to run their story. Our casualty assistance representative said to us that those news people are going to run a story one way or the other, with or without us there. And that story may include soundbites from random strangers in the grocery store, parking lot saying things like, Oh, this is a tragedy, or it's so sad to lose someone so young, or whatever nothing really of any substance. But none of them, none of those people were going to tell the story of who my brother was and that was on us. We knew him best. And if we want people to remember him, we have to tell that story.
Scott DeLuzio: 00:15:14 And so we did, we talked to every television, radio and newspaper reporter who wanted to do an interview for the next few weeks. And the intensity of those interviews, the frequency of those interviews, I should say, died down a few weeks later. It picked up again around the one-year anniversary of his death. But after that, there were hardly any reporters coming around anymore. So, just like what you said six months to a year later…actually technically shortly after the one-year anniversary was when Osama bin Laden was killed. And so, we had reporters coming to talk to us about that and how we felt, and they were looking for the soundbites of that, but there were hardly any reporters after that that came around and it felt like after that, people didn't seem to care anymore. I mean, obviously family and friends cared, but it just seemed like as a society, people started to forget about that stuff. And you know, so having a record of who these people are, all these people who made the ultimate sacrifice, I think is a great thing to do, especially for families, like you said, the young children I think that's really a great way to remember their family history.
Dennis Schroader: 00:16:37 Absolutely. And I don't know if your brother had children or not, but in the case of our service members who were single and didn't have children, most of them still had extended families. And so, we want to be able to place in the hands of these families something that is going to be a legacy piece that they can pass onto future generations so that they can say; well, my uncle, or whatever the relationship was, this is who he or she was, and that they don't have to try to piece together when they're in their twenties and thirties or beyond, the stories that are going to be fragmented. So, we want to be able to pull this together and have a professional biography writer tell that story in a single voice. That's something that's going to honor them. They're going to honor their family and be there for the future.
Scott DeLuzio: 00:17:47 Yeah. My brother was engaged at the time that he was killed but he wasn't married. He didn't have any kids. My oldest son, at the time, he was about nine months old. And so well, yes, technically my brother was an uncle. My son doesn't remember him because he was just so young, and our two other children that were born afterwards, they never had the opportunity to meet him. I know my mother has done a lot of work, digging up information of our family history through ancestry.com type of sites. Unfortunately, most of our family came from Europe and a lot of the records, the birth records and marriage and death certificates and all that kind of stuff,
Scott DeLuzio: 00:18:36 all those family documents were destroyed during the Wars that took place. And so, they never had an opportunity to be digitized. Obviously, there's a lineage that goes back a long way. The oldest family members that we could dig up any information on, were born in the late 1880s, 1890s, or somewhere around there. If you think about it, it's not really all that long ago. That's probably only like my great grandparents' generation. So, I think that the work that you're doing here is especially important because while a lot of our records are digitized, birth certificates and marriage and death certificates and all that stuff, they may only really tell those basic demographic kinds of things.
Dennis Schroader: 00:19:19 Exactly. That gives you a skeleton. We want to be able to fill in the gaps and put flesh on those bones, so to speak, to be able to give you a picture of who that person was exactly.
Scott DeLuzio: 00:19:36 Yeah, exactly. And our fallen service members are not here to tell their story. And it's great to be able to capture that from stories from family members, from friends, from coworkers, neighbors, you name it, and anybody who really knew them, to fill in some of those gaps and put meat on the bones of that skeleton that you're talking about, you know?
Dennis Schroader: 00:19:56 Right. Exactly.
Scott DeLuzio: 00:19:58 So, it's great. And I think another benefit to having these stories is that they're available not just for the family members who are grieving, or maybe who never met these people and are just interested in their own family history. It's also good for the American public to know who they are.
Dennis Schroader: 00:20:21 I completely agree. I really do. I think that by being able to tell these stories, we’re going to be able to put specifics to the picture that people who haven't served have of those who do serve, because realistically, everybody who ever put the uniform on, beforehand, they could be asked to make that sacrifice themselves, you knew that, I knew that, my son, my daughter, my father, we all knew that. The people who actually do have to make that sacrifice are really no different than you or I and so by being able to tell these stories until more than just a handful of them; we know that we can help to put aside some of the stereotypes that sometimes you and I may hear from people that really never served and really don't know that our service members, other than having a dedication to serve and a willingness to be selfless in that service,
Dennis Schroader: 00:21:43 we are a reflection of American society at large. So, all races, both genders, all political persuasions, people from basically all walks of life. And that's really, in a larger sense, the message that we want to eventually be able to communicate to the American public. These are America's sons and daughters, your brothers and sisters who have served, and these are the ones that paid that ultimate price. And we want to honor them and keep their memories alive by being able to tell their stories. So, we definitely are going to be publishing the books, but we also, in the process of collecting the information, we will be doing interviews with people that we can find who knew the fallen and we will be filming those interviews and using that footage as the basis to create a series of documentary videos. How that's going to look exactly we're not there yet, but we eventually want to be able to get a series of one-hour documentaries that we'd like to get into a major distribution, but until that time, we'll use these in shorter clips that will still tell the story and put it into, YouTube or some other platform that can be accessed by the wider population.
Scott DeLuzio: 00:23:23 And so, I think that it's great for the accessibility to the wider public, not necessarily just the family members, which I think is great too. There are people who just have a genuine curiosity about the military and war and especially if they didn't serve themselves or didn't know anyone who served that they could talk to, they might just be unaware of the things that happen in the military.
Dennis Schroader: 00:23:52 I will say that in the two-plus years of networking that I've done here in the greater Nashville area, I haven't found a single person who I spoke with that wasn't touched by this mission and wouldn’t be interested in seeing these stories, once we are able to produce them. So, I completely agree with you. The vast majority of people that I met, never served themselves, but were really moved to honor those that have; so, I think that there's an audience out there for what we're going to be producing.
Scott DeLuzio: 00:24:35 And I know when my brother was killed, I wanted to make sure that his wake and his funeral were pretty much open to the public. Not that I want to make a spectacle of his death and things like that. But we did end up having thousands of people come to his wake and funeral. And I wanted this because we were talking about it; he was a real person who had a real family with his own hopes and dreams and aspirations. He was a New York Yankees fan, but other than that, he wasn't too flawed as a person, but I wanted people to see the reality of war, especially if they didn't know anyone who served. And prior to his death, to me, this sort of thing was just something that happened to “other people” It really became real to me, that other people could look just like the person that you look at in the mirror every morning. I wanted to make sure that people knew what those other people look like, and that was us. So, it was our family at that moment.
Dennis Schroader: 00:25:40 I completely agree. That's exactly how I feel and that’s what our purpose is, to be able to reach people who don't know, who haven't served. We don't want to have the emphasis to be on the death of the individual. We want the emphasis to be on the life that they lived, while not ignoring the sacrifice. Our efforts are going to be as much as possible, a-political, we don't want to align ourselves with any specific kind of political movement, because we are in a constitutional Republic and we've got various different political parties. And we definitely know that those who are in uniform, represent those parties too. And all who have served, deserve honor, and those that pay the ultimate price deserve honor. And so, we can't do that if we align with any one particular political position.
Scott DeLuzio: 00:26:56 And I know from my experience when I served, that the people I served with represented all walks of life, we had everything from Democrats and Republicans. We had all a wide mix of racial backgrounds. And we had occupations, as a national guard soldier, we had civilian occupations as well. We had police officers, we had mechanics, we had accountants and we had lawyers. We had a wide variety of people from all walks of life. And it, like you were saying that the military is not made up of any one group of people, to just alienate the rest and focus on one group, doesn't make a whole lot of sense. We all wear the same uniform and we all have the same flag that we fight under.
Dennis Schroader: 00:28:03 Yeah. I mean, we all bleed red.
Scott DeLuzio: 00:28:06 Yep, exactly. So, I know when we spoke the other day, you mentioned that the foundation does have a few needs, and I want to give you some time here to let the listeners know what those needs are. And hopefully if we have any generous listeners out there who can help out with the foundation's needs, if they have the means, they can do that. But I'd love to give you the opportunity to mention a few.
Dennis Schroader: 00:28:31 Well, absolutely. Well, we are still new and still extremely small. So certainly, financial support is critical to us at this time. If somebody can come up with a generous gift of a thousand dollars or more, that'd be wonderful, but that's really not what we're expecting. Our ask would be a small, monthly gift, something that fits within your budget. If this is a cause that is dear to your heart, a cup of coffee a month, a $5 gift, would really help us to be able to plan and program what we can do into the future. In order for us to get cinema quality recordings of these interviews, we’re going to need a technology package of cameras and recording equipment and lighting and stuff like that, that we can ship to the location of the person that we're interviewing.
Dennis Schroader: 00:29:29 That's about $13,000. Until then we will use zoom video, but let's face it, everybody that’s been on Zoom knows that once we're outside of this pandemic situation, it's not going to be the best quality video, and it's not going to make for the most interesting video clips that we can put out there. So, for the time being we'll use the technology that we have that we can afford, but we really do want to be able to produce a quality video that people are going to be interested in watching. We have needs for volunteers. We have needs for people to be researchers. So outside of the people that in the case of you and your brother you know, you served, you probably have a few more contacts than folks like the sisters I was talking about.
Dennis Schroader: 00:30:36 The families know a few people, we want to find as many other folks that knew them while they were in the service, prior to their service when they were kids in school, et c. So, we definitely are going to need some researchers to help us to locate those people and invite them to participate in telling the story. I have a desire to have some more interesting things for our website on our merchandise site; right now, the only thing that's out there on any of the merchandise is our logo, which I'm happy with. But I have seen a lot of organizations out there on Facebook and Instagram that have some killer graphics that are very moving and military related. I would love to have some folks that have the ability to create those to work with us.
Dennis Schroader: 00:31:38 We're going to need people that have musical talents; eventually, we're gonna need to have a theme song, we're going to need to have people that are great with the video editing and the like. So, we still have a lot of room to grow. And as I tell folks who express an interest in us; if what I've said, doesn't quite fit what you need, if you have a heart for what we're doing, and you've got a talent that you've got talk to me and let's suggest how you see us working together and, most likely to be able to utilize that skill.
Scott DeLuzio: 00:32:29 Yeah. And I know we currently run a nonprofit foundation in memory of my brother and there's
Scott DeLuzio: 00:32:40 a lot of work that goes into the various things that go into that. Even from the financial side, the bookkeeping and all that kind of stuff, there are so many different needs that organizations like yours need. So, if anyone is willing to volunteer and reach out and help out with the things that this organization is doing, please reach out and we will have links to all the contact information in the show notes and everything. So, you can certainly find how you can help out through that as well. Speaking of contact information and things like that as we wrap up here, where can people go to get in touch with you and find out more about the Price of Freedom Foundation and everything that you're doing?
Dennis Schroader: 00:33:39 Well, our website is www.priceoffreedomfoundation.org. You can send me [email protected] that comes to me directly. Our phone number is (615) 389-1867. We have pages on Facebook on LinkedIn, on YouTube and Instagram. We have the most followers currently on Facebook with about 3,300 and we'd love to grow that much larger. We have far fewer followers on the other social media sites. So, I would love it for folks that are on those platforms to like, follow, and share all of those with their contacts as well. We know that the more people that are aware of us, the more people that will be in a position to help one way or another, and the more stories that we can attract to us, because we really do need more stories to tell. We're starting our first, it'll probably take about a year, to complete each story that we work with. We have the capacity at this point, to probably work on five stories, consecutively. As we get more to tell, I'll need more writers, I have one writer who's a volunteer currently, but I'm certain he's going to be, swamped if I get more than five. So, we're going to need a lot of help and a lot of folks and more folks that are aware of us the better this is going to be all around.
Scott DeLuzio: 00:35:43 Absolutely. And I'm glad to be able to raise awareness of what it is that you're doing and where people can go to find out more about you and your organization and volunteer their time or resources, if they're able. So again, Dennis, it has been a pleasure speaking with you and I'm really excited to see where this goes. I look forward to watching some of these videos and reading about some of these folks who made the ultimate sacrifice for our country. So, thank you again.
Dennis Schroader: 00:36:22 Thank you, Scott. It was an honor to be here and thank you for your service and what you're doing through your podcasts. I really appreciate it.
Scott DeLuzio: All right. Thank you.
Scott DeLuzio: 00:36:35 Thanks for listening to the Drive On Podcast. If you want to check out more episodes or learn more about the show, you can visit our website DriveOnPodcast.com. We're on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram @DriveOnPodcast.