World War II vet shares service journeyNovember 11, 2019
By BILL POWELL
JASPER — As with Veterans Day itself, the numbers associated with World War II infantryman Louis Schmidt bear significance.
A World War I armistice on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month putting an end to that “war to end all wars” is why today is the date to honor all veterans.
Schmidt knew The Herald was going to publish a salute to veterans, which is why, days short of his 96th birthday, he drove up to the curb at the newspaper with his World War II photograph showing him as a young U.S. Army staff sergeant.
He had been a member of Company A, 20th Infantry Regiment, 6th Infantry Division, a force that logged 306 days of combat in New Guinea and the Philippines, including a 219-day stretch of continuous combat.
Just as temperatures today are headed 20 degrees colder than average, Schmidt could pass for 20 years younger than his actual age as he presented a small slip of paper on which he had scrawled significant milestones of his service in the Pacific Theater.
Schmidt remembers his first combat experience as part of the New Guinea campaign lasting 29 days. “We never changed any clothes ... or took off our boots over those 29 days before we had a chance to pull back and go into the ocean,” he says.
Before getting there, Schmidt, who had graduated from Jasper High School in 1941, was drafted in March 1943. He was examined in Evansville, spent a few days at Fort Benjamin Harrison in Indianapolis and then went through 13 weeks of infantry basic training at Camp Wolters, Texas.
After Texas and before shipping out for amphibious and jungle training in Hawaii, he spent some time at Camp San Luis Obispo, California, and was among troops used to fight California wildfires that year.
Schmidt saw combat in New Guinea and the Philippines, lost battle buddies to everything from artillery shells to sniper bullets and was even aboard a ship — the USS Callaway — that was crashed into by a kamikaze a day before a beach landing.
“They ran us downstairs, telling all the soldiers to get below deck,” Schmidt says. More than 20 sailors lost their lives and were buried at sea.
“We had trouble getting that out of our head because we had to hit the beach the next day,” he says.
Thankfully, the only thing that sent Schmidt to a medical tent was blood poisoning. After combat, Schmidt rose to the rank of staff sergeant and commanded a platoon at the beach on Lingayen Gulf, waiting to ship out “at almost the same place that we started.”
During training and combat, Schmidt never crossed paths with anyone he knew from Indiana. But there, on the beach at Lingayen Gulf, someone came to his tent and said someone from Jasper was there to see Schmidt. It turned out to be Cletus Knies, who was from the Celestine area.
“I really didn’t know him personally, but I knew of him because I saw him a lot of times at dances and stuff like that before I left,” Schmidt says.
There, at Lingayen Gulf, Schmidt says, they became instant friends and he dug some of his beer ration brews out of the sand and sat them on a cot for the occasion.
“He’s a little older than I am,” points out Knies, who is just turning 94. Knies was also a part of the 6th Division and rose to the rank of staff sergeant. He was knocked out once during combat when an artillery shell hit near his foxhole. Today he lives in the Ireland area and cares for his wife of 68 years, Joan.
Schmidt made it home and was discharged Jan. 4, 1946. He was single, but that was destined to change after he and a buddy went to a dance at Schnellville.
His friend, who was shorter in stature, spotted two girls dancing in the hall and Schmidt successfully lobbied to ask the tall one to dance.
“We both ended up marrying those gals,” Schmidt says.
For him, that union is now more than 71 years strong. He married the former Mary Ann Theising on Oct. 12, 1948.
While they were dating, Schmidt told Mary Ann about meeting Cletus Knies during the war. Turns out Knies was Mary Ann’s first cousin.
Schmidt tabbed Knies to be the chauffeur at his wedding.
As a civilian, Schmidt worked at Jasper manufacturing plants before retiring 30 years ago. He and Mary Ann raised two daughters who married and blessed them with grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
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