Hundreds of Americans swarmed the funeral of Herman Schmidt, a member of the Navy who was killed during the attack on Pearl Harbor but whose remains were only recently identified, after some were concerned no one would appear to honor the deceased sailor.
Schmidt, who hailed from Sheridan, Wyoming, was killed at the age of 28 during the surprise Japanese assault on American forces in Hawaii. He served as a gunner on the USS Oklahoma, which sustained multiple torpedo hits and barrages from enemy aircraft that resulted in the deaths of 428 other crewmen. President Franklin D. Roosevelt subsequently called the Pearl Harbor attack a “date which will live in infamy” and asked Congress to declare war on Japan, officially entering the United States into World War II.
Navy officials recovered the remains from the deceased crew members between December 1941 and June 1944; they were initially able to identify only 35 men from the USS Oklahoma, but advances in DNA technology recently allowed officials to identify Schmidt’s remains, according to a press release from the Defense POW/MIA Agency.
Schmidt had left behind a wife and an infant son, Michael Schmidt, as he departed to serve his country in Hawaii. Now 82 years old and in poor health, Michael Schmidt indicated that he was unable to attend the February 23 funeral at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, D.C., as the father he never knew would be buried with full military honors.
“I have mixed emotions,” Michael Schmidt said during an interview with The Washington Times. “I thought it was fantastic that they did it.”
Andrea McCarren, a former journalist for WUSA-TV and the chief communications officer of PenFed Credit Union, shared on social media that there was concern no one would attend Herman Schmidt’s funeral. She announced on Thursday afternoon, however, that more than 500 strangers arrived at Arlington to pay their respects for the World War II hero. Schmidt was also honored in his home state as Gov. Mark Gordon (R-WY) ordered flags to be flown at half staff on Thursday.
ANYTHING is possible when people work together. More than 500 strangers attended funeral of WWII hero Herman Schmidt, whose only survivor is in poor health. There was fear that no one would show up. Schmidt left behind a wife & newborn baby. His remains were recently identified. pic.twitter.com/wMFeNgDplx
— Andrea McCarren (@AndreaMcCarren) February 23, 2023
The Defense Department estimates that the remains of more than 80,000 service personnel are missing from previous conflicts and that 38,000 are estimated to be recoverable. When officials from North Korea turned over 55 cases containing the remains of American service members killed during the Korean War in 2018, for instance, the cases were transported to a DNA analysis facility in Hawaii.
Some 99% of soldiers from the Korean War and earlier conflicts, however, do not have DNA on file, according to a report from CNN. The Veterans of Foreign Wars, therefore, urged families of Korean War veterans to submit DNA samples to the Defense Department.
The successful identification of missing service members’ remains can often serve as solace for family members. “From Belleau Wood to the Battle of the Bulge, Korea to Vietnam, Afghanistan to Iraq, and around the world, American patriots have dared all, risked all, and given all to defend our Nation and protect our liberties,” President Joe Biden remarked in a statement ahead of the most recent National POW/MIA Recognition Day on September 16. “Now and always, we honor their service, valor, and sacrifice. We also continue the righteous work of bringing home our heroes who remain unaccounted for.”