Awesome public response from DC Area for sailor killed at Pearl Harbor

STARS & STRIPES: None of the more than 300 people who attended Herman Schmidt’s interment service Thursday afternoon at Arlington National Cemetery had ever met him. Most of those there had never heard his name until just a few days earlier.

Still, they came.

Still, they bowed their heads and prayed.

Still, they stood several rows deep under a leafless tree on a summery winter day to express their deep gratitude to the man they’d never met and whose name they’d just learned.

Schmidt, a 28-year-old from Sheridan, Wyo., with a wife and young son living in California, was one of the first American casualties of World War II, killed like scores of his fellow service members when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. At the time he was serving as a Navy gunner’s mate third class aboard the battleship USS Oklahoma, a vessel doomed by plane-fired torpedoes that capsized it in minutes.

The Navy would spend three years recovering remains of those killed on the Oklahoma and later inter them in two cemeteries in Hawaii. An attempt was undertaken in 1947 to identify the remains of the sailors, but positive identifications were made in just 35 cases. The remains of the rest of the men were then buried at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, also known as the Punchbowl, in Hawaii. Schmidt was among those whose remains were not identified.

That might have been the end of the story, but in 2015 the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) began a remarkable project to try to identify the Oklahoma’s victims using DNA testing as well as dental and anthropological analysis. It exhumed the bodies and, within six years, would positively identify the vast majority of the crewmen.

Schmidt’s remains were positively identified in 2021 following the submission of a DNA sample by his son, Michael Schmidt, who was just 13 months old when his father was killed…

…A few days before the interment, the chaplain conducting the service, Navy Lt. Cmdr. Robert Price, began to worry. He knew that Schmidt’s son wasn’t going to be able to attend. What if just a few people came? What if no one came?

He asked a couple of friends and emailed a few groups to let them know about Schmidt. Could they be there?

“It went gangbusters,” Price said with a smile after the service, looking at the long, long line of cars that snaked past the burial site. The word spread to service academy alumni groups, Pentagon offices, military bases, the Daughters of the American Revolution and then on social media, where more people who had never heard of Schmidt decided they needed to make their way to Arlington.