From Germany to Tennessee to Vietnam to New Jersey to East Greenwich to Concord, Mass., to Newport, to 100 ports in between, the amazing journey of Udo Schroff will be shared statewide when he is honored later this year at the 17th annual Leukemia Cup Regatta.
Schroff, 66, an East Greenwich resident who came to the U.S. from Germany at 12, has struggled with lymphocytic leukemia since his initial six-month treatment in 2003.
Schroff’s disease can be traced back to Agent Orange exposure during two years of service in Vietnam as a Special Operations combat commander. His dedication to sailing and the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society lead him to accept the position of this year’s Honored Patient.
He served in the military from 1967-71. A Distinguished Military Graduate from the University of Tennessee, Schroff served as commander of the 12th Psy-War Company, 3rd SF Group, Special Operations in Vietnam and as an instructor at the JFK School of Special Warfare upon his return from Vietnam. He achieved the rank of Captain.
“While at Vietnam, from 1967 through 1968, I was embedded with the Vietnamese and Montagnards in the highlands. I lead an advisory team that supported, roughly, a battalion of indigenous forces. Most of these forces consisted of company-size units located in a series of outposts,” said Schroff. “We would lead these indigenous forces in interdiction, search and destroy operations. We also engaged in a steady diet of training and patrols. Tactically, we were tasked with achieving security (pacification) and strategically with interdicting North Vietnamese supply chains.”
Schroff had many encounters with disease while serving in Vietnam, but never his own.
“One of our most important ‘value add’ contribution was our medical service. We would routinely hold ‘sick call.’ There invariably would be long lines. Most everything was in play: Pulling teeth, delivering babies, setting bones, etc.,” he added. “We medivac’d those patients beyond our ability to care for.”
Typically, Schroff added, his unit operated beyond the artillery fan (or coverage) of U.S. forces. “We were on our own with food, water. As such, we drank river water from time to time. I surmise that that water contained dissolved dioxin, an Agent Orange component,” he said of the chemicals that are believed to have destroyed his health.
A self-professed “Corporate warrior,” prior to his moving to Rhode Island a quarter century ago, Schroff worked in sales and human resources for Pfizer and in human resources and operations for Philip Morris’ Miller Brewing Company and Seven Up divisions. Prior to his Boston assignment, he was Director of Regional Operations in Canada.
“I first learned about my malignancy, chronic lymphocytic leukemia, shortly after a sinus cavity surgery, in January 2000,” said Schroff. “My white count was unusually high. Yet there was no infection. A bone marrow biopsy revealed that I had CLL.”
An avid sailor (see sidebar), Schroff and his crew would still post podium finishes after the diagnosis, but he was no longer able to drive his sailboat program with the same level of intensity.
His new campaign (with everything on the line) would be launched that year. After a series of relapses and surgeries, Schroff received organ transplants in 2007. He is currently stable, albeit with manageable graft vs. host disease.
Schroff will be present at the regatta, officiate at several of the events and serve as inspiration, encouraging all of the racers in their fundraising efforts.
The fund-raising weekend will be distinguished by a variety of events taking place at the New York Yacht Club’s Harbour Court Club House in Newport, Friday and Saturday, June 3-4. Gary Jobson and the entire regatta committee extend an invitation to the public to participate in a series of events both on and off the water.
There will be a cocktail reception, “An Evening at Harbour Court,” with fine cuisine on June 3. There will be silent and live auctions for prized items with a more casual, fun Barbecue on Saturday, June 4.
The focal point of the weekend will be one-design and fleet racing on June 4, which will include a wide range of boats including J-30s, Swan 42s, and an MX20, among others. There is also a CR-914 model yacht race on Friday, June 3.
For additional information and to purchase tickets contact the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society at 401-943-8888 or www.leukemiacup.org/ri .