It was a moment 81 years in the making.
Herman Schmidt, who was aboard the Navy battleship USS Oklahoma on Dec. 7, 1941, was laid to rest with honors at Arlington National Cemetery on Thursday.
Gov. Mark Gordon ordered both the U.S. and Wyoming state flags be flown at half-staff statewide in honor and memory of the World War II gunner’s mate 3rd class from Sheridan. Schmidt was one of hundreds of sailors who died in the waters of Park Harbor when their ships were struck by torpedoes on that day President Franklin D. Roosevelt historically said would “live in infamy.”
Schmidt’s remains were recently identified through DNA testing and dental records.
His great-nephew Gary Bishop was able to attend the ceremony at Arlington, and accepted the American flag on behalf of the family.
“We sat in the front row chairs, being family,” Bishop told Cowboy State Daily. “It was just honoring for Herman and humbling for us.”
Schmidt’s remains, encased in a beautiful wooden urn, were ceremoniously laid to rest in Section 70 of the cemetery, said Timothy Lawson, digital media specialist for Arlington National Cemetery.
“It’s sort of along the wall, just on the other side of the Pentagon, actually,” he said.
His inurnment at the nation’s most prestigious cemetery was witnessed by hundreds of onlookers, Lawson said. He told Cowboy State Daily that there was some initial concern that attendance at the ceremony would be low – but word got out.
“One thing that was really beautiful about today’s ceremony was there was concern about how many of the GM3 Schmidt’s family was going to be able to attend,” he said. “But it’s probably one of the bigger funerals that we’ve seen, attendance-wise, because members of the local VFW, American Legion and other organizations came out to make sure that his funeral was properly attended.”
Those organizations included the Sons of Solomon, a motorcycle club in the District of Columbia.
“(They) were quietly and strongly in positions for the service,” said Bishop. “You could feel the honor and respect that those in attendance paid to Herman.”
He added that representatives from all of Wyoming’s congressional delegates also were there, which Bishop said “was very meaningful.”
Bishop was surprised by the sheer number of people who came to honor his great-uncle’s service and sacrifice.
“We pulled into the area where we were supposed to meet the two chaplains that were there for (the service),” Bishop said. “And they told us, ‘We have quite a turnout for your great uncle’s service.’ And we had seen some people standing across the parking lot and we thought, well, that’s 12 people or so.
“And then they actually gave us a ride to the service, and we got around the corner – and I don’t know, I heard an estimate of 300 people.”
Bishop remarked that the large turnout might have come as a result of a comment made on a prominent cable news network.
“Dana Perino had made an announcement on Fox News the day before the day we traveled out here,” he said.
Bishop added that he was approached by a Washington Post reporter in attendance at the ceremony, who observed that although Bishop had never met his uncle Herman – he was killed 20 years before Bishop was born – the number of people who turned out for the service was remarkable.
“He pointed out the fact that there were all these people there, and not one person who had ever met Herman,” said Bishop. “It just testifies to the turnout of bringing a fallen sailor home.”
Bishop added that a ladies’ group that attends every veteran’s funeral, the Ladies of Arlington, were in attendance, as were a number of veterans.
“The ladies actually gave us condolence cards,” he said.
Bishop was able to attend the ceremony thanks to intervention from Wyoming Sen. Cynthia Lummis’ office. He said Jennifer Fernandez, the senator’s representative in Cody, reached out to Bishop about flying them to Washington, D.C.
“She contacted an organization called Luke’s Wings,” Bishop said. “Luke’s Wings typically transports military wounded family to the hospitals to be with them as fast as they can. But they were intrigued with our story, so they provided our airfare.”
In a statement to Cowboy State Daily, Lummis said it “was my great honor to ensure that Sailor Herman Schmidt’s great-nephew, Gary Bishop, and his family could be in attendance at his interment at Arlington National Cemetery. Sailor Schmidt gave his life for his country and we will never be able to fully express our gratitude.”
Flag Sent Home
Although Bishop and his wife, Carla, accepted the flag on behalf of the family, Bishop said the Navy will send it on to Schmidt’s son in California, whose health prohibited travel.
“The chaplain said he had talked to him twice, and just because of his age, he didn’t want to travel,” said Bishop.
Other mementos from the event almost caused Bishop some delays at the TSA checkpoint at the airport Friday morning, however.
“The commander of the Navy ceremonial guard team gave me the spent cartridges from the 21-gun salute,” said Bishop. “They saw them in the X-ray and pulled the bag aside for physical examination, so I explained the story. They just said, ‘Sorry for your loss.’”