By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily
In 1941, 28-year-old Herman Schmidt of Sheridan was a Gunner’s Mate 3rd Class on the U.S.S. Oklahoma, a Nevada-Class battleship moored in berth Fox 5 on Battleship Row at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.
Schmidt, who grew up in Sheridan, was a sailor in the Navy in 1937 and was assigned to the Oklahoma. On the morning of Dec. 7, 1941, Schmidt and his fellow crew members were enjoying a peaceful Sunday morning when their world came to an abrupt and terrifying end.
At about 10 minutes to 8 that Sunday morning, three torpedoes struck the Oklahoma, dropped from fighter planes launched from the Japanese aircraft carriers Akagi and Kaga. The great battleship began to list to port, eventually capsizing and trapping hundreds of sailors, including Schmidt, at the bottom of the harbor.
After being hit with a total of eight torpedoes, the Oklahoma went down and 429 American servicemen onboard died.
More than 81 years after his death, Schmidt’s body is finally nearing the end of its earthly journey. On Feb. 24, the young Wyoming man – whose remains have been buried in a national cemetery in Hawaii all these decades – will be interred with highest honors at Arlington National Cemetery.
Gary Bishop of Buffalo was born 20 years after his great uncle, Herman Schmidt, died on that December day in Hawaii that forever “will live in infamy.”
He recalls hearing about his grandfather’s brother growing up and the tragic loss that left a mark on their family. However, he admitted that not much else was known about his mother’s uncle.
“We knew he was on the Oklahoma,” said Bishop, noting that Herman called Sheridan home, while his brother Ed (Bishop’s grandfather) had moved to Buffalo in the 1930s.
Bishop shared a postcard with Cowboy State Daily that Schmidt had sent to Bishop’s grandfather in 1937, the year he was assigned to the Oklahoma.
“Dear Brother,” read the postcard, dated Sept. 24, 1937. “Arrived yesterday. Leave in the morning on U.S.S. Longely to San Perdo. Will be stationed on U.S.S. Oklahoma. Will write all about my trip after I get straightened out. Herm.”
The postcard was addressed simply to, “Mr. Edward Schmidt, Clearmont, Wyo.”
Bishop said he did know that by the time Schmidt was killed at Pearl Harbor, he was married and the father of a 1-year-old boy, Nick.
In 1949, the 388 unknown sailors who perished during the attack on Pearl Harbor were buried en masse at Punchbowl, Hawaii, in the National Memorial Cemetery Of The Pacific. Without any means of identification, the bodies remained interred there until 2015.
That’s when scientists began the painstaking process of exhuming the unknown sailors from the Punchbowl and extracting DNA from the remains. To identify each, they used dental records and asked for DNA samples from family members for reference.
Schmidt’s remains were identified Jan. 13, 2021, but Bishop said his Wyoming family wasn’t notified. It wasn’t until Bishop took it upon himself to learn more about his uncle through an internet search a couple of years ago that he found out that Schmidt’s remains had been identified.
“I just did a random Google search, put in ‘Herman Schmidt’ and ‘Sheridan, Wyoming,’” said Bishop. “I found a couple articles, and that’s when I found out that his remains had been identified.”
Bishop said he reached out to his aunt Jeanette, Herman’s niece, who had been contacted by the agency working on the identifications.
“They were thinking she was next of kin,” said Bishop, “and she told them he had a wife and a son, and somehow they tracked them down and used them for the DNA (match).”
Arlington National Cemetery
Schmidt’s remains are to be interred at Arlington National Cemetery on Feb. 24, and although Bishop said he’d like to go, he’s not sure how to go about attending.
“I tried to contact John Barrasso’s office to see if he could maybe help me,” said Bishop, “but I haven’t heard anything back.”
Because Schmidt’s name is recorded on the “Walls of the Missing” at the Punchbowl, along with the others who are missing from World War II, a rosette will be placed next to his name to signify that he has been accounted for.
Schmidt was posthumously awarded a number of honors, including the Purple Heart Medal, the Combat Action Ribbon, a Good Conduct Medal, the American Defense Service Medal (with Fleet Clasp), the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal (with Bronze Star), the American Campaign Medal and the World War II Victory Medal.
Bishop said that having his relative buried at Arlington National Cemetery is a great honor.
“Like anybody else that has a relative that served, who was killed and is able to be buried there, it’s pretty prestigious,” he said. “And you know, you’re just proud of it.”