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Veteran visits campus, shares battle story (VIDEO)

Apart from celebrating a three-day weekend, students got a glimpse into the life of a veteran when Vern Schmidt arrived on campus Tuesday morning, Nov. 14. The Tuesday-morning chapel began with songs from the Worship Team, followed by Schmidt sharing his story through an interview with Paul Loeffler.

Schmidt was brought to campus as part of Loeffler’s interest in sharing with Valley audiences his Hometown Heroes program: a weekly show dedicated to telling the stories of World War II veterans on KMJ 580 AM radio.

Schmidt served in the 35th Regiment in the 90th Infantry Division from 1944 through 1946 during World War II and he was recalled during the Korean War from 1950-1951. He served a total of four years, active duty, and four years reserve duty. Entering the war as only a 19-year old, Schmidt found himself in battle only days after traveling to Europe. Within nine days in combat, Schmidt had made friends who died in his place, who he will remember forever.

On a day-to-day life, Schmidt remembers the common enemies they faced, the Germans and the weather. Schmidt also reflects on how much walking he did the first month of his tour.

“We had two enemies, one were the Germans and one was the cold weather,” Schmidt said. “I started right near Belgium and I walked almost halfway across Germany and Checklosavakia. The first month we could measure our time in yards, but towards the end we were riding in tanks so we were moving much quicker. We carried with us packages containing crackers and a box with a candy bar, fruit bar, can of eggs or a can of beans. We just walked from day-to-day pursuing the enemy and pushing them back. There were times when we spent all day fighting the enemy.”

The weather and lack of resources only allowed Schmidt to change clothes and bath a few times during his time in combat.

“I only had my boots off two times from February to May, which means I only had my clothes off twice from February to May,” Schmidt said. “We had orders to change our socks daily, but we only had one pair. I had only one pair, so I didn’t change socks. I had a cold shower in the woods one day. One other time I had my boots off was when I had been pretty loaded with lice.”

Along with Schmidt, his brother Glen also served in the war. Glen was also held as a Prisoner of War (POW) at a concentration camp called 9-B in the town of Bad Orb in Hesse, Germany.

“My brother preceded me into the war by about two months,” Schmidt said. “We didn’t have communication like we did now, so I only knew he was in Europe. He didn’t even know I was in Europe. But I tried to write to him and I never received anything back. Two weeks before he was liberated, we had just captured a large city. I got back to camp and received a letter that my brother, Glen, was in a POW camp in Germany, and that’s all I knew.”

On Easter Sunday, the Second Calvary Mechanized Squadron, where Schmidt would soon be transfered to, helped in liberating the same camp where his brother was being held along with 3,000 other American soldiers and many other citizens from surrounding countries.

“We began getting information that American troops were being liberated and we were near by,” Schmidt said. “Things were starting to happen because we were finally surrounding the Germans into a corner. So, they had to start releasing our prisoners of war. On that day, the unit that I served with came into the town where he was incarcerated. But a citizen leaked out that there was a concentration camp of American soldiers and they burst through the fence and liberated my brother. He was one of the first prisoners of war to reach New York and come home in later May.”

After talking with many other soldiers and by receiving letters from his brother, Schmidt was able to put the pieces together that linked him to his brother’s rescue.

“To even be associated with this organization and with the people who liberated my brother has been kind of a closing for me,” Schmidt said. “To find out that I had any part of my own brother’s freedom is a good closing to that experience. Due to reading letters, I found it all out.”

Upon returning to Europe, Schmidt was able to meet with friends that took him directly to the sight of one of his battles, which again was able to provide a closing feeling for him.

“When I went back to Europe this past time, I was taken to one of the sights of the battles,” Schmidt said. “We found out through this who we were actually fighting. It was a radical Secret Service (SS) group, and when they told me I thought ‘isn’t that ironic,’ because it was the same group that, two months earlier, had wounded, ambushed and captured my brother. It’s just another great closing for me to meet these people to show us where we were victorious in that battle on that hill.”

Though both Glen and Schmidt survived their years in the war, Schmidt lost four friends and many others who hold much respect in his life today. Schmidt makes a big effort in visiting cemeteries and paying his respect for those who helped sustain freedom.

“I lost four real, dear, good people in the war,” Schmidt said. “Two of them are buried here in the State, and I intend to go soon to Colorado to honor one of the gentlemen who took my place. There’s one cemetery that one out of every 10 is from my unit. 10 percent of the graves are my buddies, even though I didn’t know them. They paid the full price for my freedom, for your’s {students} and for our kids, and you can’t put a price tag on that. All sacrificed some, but some sacrificed all.

For more features, read the Nov. 9 article, The Feather Social debuts new social media.

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