Honoring Louis Schmidt
Honoring Louis Schmidt
2022 May Banner Location - East Main
Louis Schmidt was born the youngest of three sons on June 28, 1918, in Detroit, Michigan, to first generation, Hungarian born German immigrants, Joseph and Katherine (Fendt) Schmidt.
Fighting in Europe during WW II, " Lou" bravely served in the Sixth Army Group, as 1st Lieutenant, Unit Officer and Commander of Company E, in the 100th Infantry Battalion better known as the "Purple Heart Batallion, an integral unit that was an part of the 3,800 courageous men of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team within the 34th Division of the United States Army Corp. The 442nd Regiment was the most highly decorated unit of it's size in military history.
Prior to his military service, Lou left Southeastern High School in Detroit after 2 1/2 years, to work as a gear cutter in the Ford Rouge Plant in order to help support his family through the Great Depression.
In 1942, at age 24, he was called into military service and received his commission as Second Lieutenant in 1943 after completing his course at Officers Candidate School. He spent his entire officer career with the segregated 442nd Japanese American Combat Team, having been assigned to this unit on his graduation which happened to coincide with it's activation in Camp Shelby, Mississippi. The 442nd being that unique United States military organization whose entire enlisted personnel was made up of the patriotic Nikkei, (second generation Nisei and third generation Sensei), American citizens of Japanese ancestry who distinguished themselves by honorably fighting for their country despite the simultaneous detainment of their parents in internment camps following the attack on Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941. This is the very same unit that made the dramatic and historic rescue of the now famous "Lost Battalion of World War II".
As unit commander, Lou valiantly led fierce, sharpshooter riflemen through bitter fighting north of Rome, across the Arno River in Italy and into the Rhineland. In July 1944, In Italy, Lou sustained a near fatal gunshot wound to the right lung and was saved from death by a lone Japanese American soldier from his platoon who steadfastly carried him 5 miles on his back to medical safety. We attribute his amazing rescue not only to the honorable and loyal soldier in his command but also to the contents of a small leather pouch which Lou had faithfully pinned to his military uniform. Inside the pouch was a prayer card to "Our Men of Service", along with a written notice from the Sisters of the Good Shepard, St. Paul Minnesota who said they were praying for him. The notice listed his name and address along with the instructions, "In case of an accident call a priest, if you cannot reach one, whisper in my ear, "My Jesus, Mercy. Mary help!" Along with this notice was a small paper badge, backed in red felt, which depicted an illustrated image of the Sacred Heart that had received a special blessing, and still more directions for yet another prayer to be recited morning and night, "Oh Sacred Heart of Jesus, I place my trust in Thee". The Germans didn't have a chance!
Later on, in October 1944, deep within German territory and through a reported impossible, black darkness of night, and intense shelling by day, Lou led his men up and down the heavily forested region of eastern France through cold, muddy trenches in the Vosges Mountains, north of Bruyeres, where France bordered Germany. There they persevered in a brutal fight to rescue 275 stranded American soldiers of the 36th Infantry Division, a Texas National Guard Unit serving in the 1st Battalion of the 141st Regiment who were completely surrounded within German lines and without rear support. This famously known "Lost Battalion of WW II", were on the brink of annihilation having fought there without food, water or supplies for over a week. Other Texas units had recently, albeit unsuccessfully, tried for six days to break through. Finally, the fearless, Japanese American soldiers of the appropriately nicknamed "Go For Broke" 442nd Command valiantly rose up one by one in a last ditch effort and stormed the area while brazenly shouting "Banzai" (Victory) as they miraculously overtook the German resistance. When the fighting was over 211 of 275 trapped soldiers got out alive. Afterwards, the first words from the Japanese American soldiers were to offer Lucky Strike cigarettes to the weary Texans. The mission was deemed successful. In the final picture, of the staunchly heroic 3,800 men in the 442nd command, 800 troops were lost, leaving only 200 men alive.
In 1945, Lieutenant Louis Schmidt was awarded the Combat Infantryman's Badge for exemplary conduct under enemy fire, the Purple Heart Medal for injuries received in Italy, a Bronze Star Medal, two bronze battle stars for participation in the Italy and French campaigns and the American Theatre Victory Medal Ribbon.
After the war, Lou returned home in February, 1946, to work in the Glass Plant of Ford Motor Company. He soon met his devoted wife of 61 years, Erma "Bea" Nelson. They were married at Precious Blood Catholic Church in Detroit on July 6, 1949 and together they raised two children in Dearborn, Michigan. Lou received a Veteran's Diploma from Southeastern High School in 1953. Because his honorable military experience afforded him a rare opportunity to be sponsored by Ford Motor Company in an advanced program of business management, Lou later went on to achieve a college degree and he subsequently enjoyed a successful 40 year career at Ford as a Quality Control Engineer in the Glass Division. He was very proud to have helped develop and continually approve safety glass for automobile windshields.
Lou never spoke much about his wartime experience or hardships except to praise his amazing rescuer and to tell how uniquely strong and enduringly brave the Japanese American soldiers were as they proved their loyalty to the United States, despite their small stature and the popular wartime public opinion against them. He once remarked, "Soldiers at war are experiencing the greatest moments in their lives, but they don't realize it at the time".
Lou, a strong and ever reliable family patriarch was a devoted son, brother, husband, father and "Papa" to his three grandchildren and three great-grandchildren to whom he truly loved and gave much of himself. He is also well remembered and loved by his many nephews and nieces as well as close family friends whom he loved in return. We are so very grateful and proud of his deep devotion to his family, his country and his work. During his retirement years he spent many summers with his family and friends in the town of Northville, Michigan before peacefully passing away at the age of 91 on February 2, 2010 in Clearwater, Florida. As we love and miss him it is a privilege to tell his story and to honor his service in this way.