Two men who were found dead after a Palo Alto house fire have been identified as Donald Schoennauer and his best friend, Ed Martin, a family member of Schoennauer said. Both were 64 years old.
The best friends died on Friday evening, Jan. 10, after a fire broke out in Schoennauer's home at 988 Embarcadero Road, according to Palo Alto police and fire officials.
Fire units were dispatched to the green, one-story home at 7:17 p.m., and the announcement of the fatalities was made at 8:54 p.m. According to property records, the 1,300-square-foot house was built in 1949.
Firefighters contained the blaze -- which appeared to have started in the kitchen, an initial investigation indicated -- within 10 minutes, police spokesman Lt. Zach Perron said. But Embarcadero Road remained closed to traffic between Greer and Louis roads while firefighters and police completed their work.
Firefighters struggled with a heavy fire load within the home, Palo Alto Battalion Chief Niles Broussard said.
Schoennauer's mother, Urania, 91, also lived in the residence, but she was at a care home recovering from a health condition at the time of the fire, Erik Schoennauer said.
Donald Schoennauer, a Vietnam veteran, had been his mother's primary caretaker for the past 25 years. He has significant physical and mental health conditions as a result of the war, which worsened in the past five years, his nephew said.
"He had the side effects of Agent Orange and a liver condition from Hepatitis C, which he contracted there. His mental health issues were what we would more commonly refer to today as PTSD," he said.
Schoennauer had trouble walking. "He could walk, but it was a struggle to get up, and a struggle to slowly shuffle to walk. Since it was a struggle to move, obviously, it was a struggle to get out in a fire," he said.
"He was a very caring person. In his war experiences, he saw the worst that can come out of people. It influenced him to be more compassionate and to be the counterbalance to everything he saw there," his nephew said.
Schoennauer was a great caretaker to his mother, he added.
"He would do anything for you," his nephew said.
Schoennauer was born on Feb. 25, 1949, and the family lived in East Palo Alto until he attended high school. His parents, Daryl and Urania, purchased the Embarcadero Road home when Schoennauer was in high school.
He and Martin graduated from Paly in 1967, and in 1968, Schoennauer volunteered for the Marine Corps. He completed boot camp at Camp Pendleton, then he served in the Vietnam War between 1969 and 1970 during the Tet Offensive. In the 1st Marine Division, he was responsible for defending the Da Nang Air Base.
"He was a maverick kid of the 60s. His political thinking and lifestyle emanated from his war experiences. They guided everything he did," he said.
Schoennauer became a charter member of the Santa Cruz-based VFW Post 5888, which was strongly opposed to U.S. foreign policies in the 1980s. He was proudest of his contributions to create a health clinic as part of the Vietnam Friendship Village Project USA.
His time on leave in Thailand during the war and his experiences in Vietnam led to a lifelong interest in Asian culture and cuisine. In the 1970s, he traveled to Europe and spent time with family in Italy. In the 1908s, he lived in a commune in the hills above Scotts Valley in the Santa Cruz Mountains. He played bass guitar and Martin played lead in a band, which performed regularly in Santa Cruz area and the South Bay clubs, his nephew said.
"They were both great musicians. Ed was a magnificent player. He was somebody who just loved his music. He would go into the garage and just play the guitar by himself," Erik Schoennauer recalled.
Martin's mother is believed to live in Missouri. He had a brother and a sister; the sister lived in Arizona, but she is thought to be deceased, Erik Schoennauer said.
Firefighters believe the blaze began in the kitchen. The Santa Clara County Arson Task Force is investigating the cause jointly with Palo Alto police and fire departments, Perron said on Friday. But the arson team's involvement is routine after fire-related deaths, and it does not indicate there was any arson involved, he said.
Neighbor Robert Hof said he was alerted to the blaze by a girl who lives across the street. The fire appeared to have ignited suddenly, he said, as just minutes before he had been cooking in his kitchen, which faces his neighbor's home, and all was normal.
After being alerted, he looked out of his kitchen window, and there were flames "coming out of the house. There were 20-foot flames."
One witness told the Weekly the flames stretched as high as the power lines.
Hof said that Schoennauer kept to himself. The last time he saw him was a month ago.
Martin had "an incredible intellect. He was very knowledgeable about current affairs. Ed was always a buddy. They were close forever -- since high school," he said.
Donald Schoennauer was very well read. He was an avid reader of history and foreign policy, and he watched every movie ever made, his nephew said.
In his youth, Schoennauer was a competitive roller skater, and he traveled the region and the nation. In 1960, he was the national champion in the juvenile division at age 11. In 1964, he placed third in the national junior division at age 15. But he stopped roller skating competitively in high school, his nephew said.
While living in the Santa Cruz Mountains, he earned his pilot's license and flew aircraft out of Scotts Valley. In the 1990s, he earned a physician's assistant degree from Foothill College. He moved in with his mother and became her primary caregiver.
Martin moved in and helped with his day-to-day needs after Schoennauer's condition worsened. The Palo Alto VA Home Health Care program also frequently visited the home.
Schoennauer is survived by his mother, Urania, brother Gary, nephew Eric, and two grandnieces, Kennedy and Landry, and he was particularly proud of the girls. His father, Daryl, died in 1972. Schoennauer was previously married to Elizabeth for 10 years. The couple had no children.
Services are pending, but are likely to be private in keeping with Schoennauer's nature, his nephew said.
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