It’s Veterans Day and I have a day off from my county job. (I thank Veterans for both of those freedoms: to work in a job I love and to have time off to spend with my family). The kids are still sleeping and I have some free time to sit at the computer.
I’ve been thinking of my Dad a lot lately. Maybe because a friend recently lost hers; maybe because I spent the last week with a few thousand National Guardsmen; or maybe because recent events in our lives have reinforced the importance of family.
Regardless, I’ve been thinking about my Dad a lot lately. I’m reminded of him whenever I look at a flag and I think of him every time I pick up a tool.
I’m blessed to be the keeper of a three-ring binder that details my father’s entire military service history from his enlistment in World War II through his survival from the Korean War. Military campaigns, the boats he traveled overseas on, the camps he received his training at, the medals he received, and more — it’s all detailed in this book researched and compiled by my first cousin Jim Schmittendorf, my father’s godson and a retired Lt. Colonel in the US Army. I thank Jim for devoting the countless hours it took to chronicle my father’s service to our country and especially for interviewing him and relating his memories in writing to the rest of us.
During a break in the Vigilant Guard exercise I participated in last week, I had the opportunity to share that book with Lt. Col. Paul Fanning, a proud soldier in charge of the Public Affairs Division of the NY National Guard. Paul is an avid military historian and delited in the details that described my father’s service history in the Army. He pointed out little subtleties and highlighted small nuances that only someone who has served in the same shoes would know, including the fact that the 32nd Infantry Division he served in was actually a National Guard unit. It was fascinating to listen to him and I thank him for his insight.
Ironically, just as we were discussing the fact that my father received his basic training at Fort Hood in Texas, TV News broke in with details of the mass shooting that took place there. I could sense the immediate anger and sadness that overtook the Soldiers in the room.
I Tweeted last week that I have an expanded appreciation for all of the service men and women who protect our country, our freedom and the world. To honor them, and to honor my Dad who I miss very much, I thought it appropriate and I’m sure in some form, therapeutic, to share the memories I presented at my father’s memorial service four years ago.
Thanks in advance for reading it and for appreciating the bond between a father and his youngest son.
My hope for you is that you have a Veteran in your life to thank today. They deserve it.
As you read it, I hope you’ll see that my father was a veteran of many things, and served all of them to the best of his abilities. I’m proud of him for that.
Welcome to this celebration of my father’s life.
My father, Earl Roy Schmittendorf, Sr. was many things to many people.
What did he mean to you?
He was a husband, father, brother, soldier, fellow parishioner, uncle, truck driver, fisherman, pinochler, brother-in-law, hunter, carpenter, godfather – to my cousin Jim, as we learned just last night, plumber, horseshoe player, grandfather, handyman, church leader, great-grandfather… and a great-friend to many.
Most of all he was a survivor. He survived tours of duty in World War II and Korea, 2 Purple Hearts, 3 heart attacks, 2 strokes, 11 kids, 31 grandchildren, and four great-grandchildren.
He would have been 82 on May 4th. He was fishing the day before he went in the hospital, and golfing the day before that. He lived and loved life to the fullest.
Although my father never studied past the eighth grade, he taught us many lessons in life.
One of my favorite phrases that exemplifies my father is:
“The greatest gift a father can give his children – is to love their mother.”
I don’t know if my Dad ever said that himself, but I do know that it’s a philosophy he always followed. It’s a philosophy that I live by every day, and hopefully Laurie will agree.
He was married to my mother for 25 years when she passed away in 1976 and he and Carol would have celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary in May – so you could say he had that commitment thing down pretty well.
One of my proudest moments was to be his best man when he and Carol were married. And I know that he listed his long and successful marriages amongst his greatest accomplishments.
My favorite thing to hear my father say to my kids was repeated whenever he walked in the door or was walking out. He would grab them, pull them close and insist:
“Give me a kiss, and then you won’t have so many.”
His dry sense of humor was something that he bestowed on anyone regardless of their background or status, and many times, whether they wanted it or not.
And if you know any Schmittendorf, you know that sense of humor – a gift or a curse, I’m not sure which – is like our facial features and receding hairlines – it’s passed on from generation-to-generation. My father gave it to me and my son suffers from it already at the age of 12 – the sense of humor, that is.
My father could find humor in virtually everything, except maybe the time that Nancy and Marcy argued over which one of them would wear a mini-skirt they had purchased jointly. He resolved the issue by tearing the skirt in half – leaving both parties equally unhappy.
He taught me that with privilege comes responsibility. We learned that first-hand in the cornfields and strawberry patch behind our house on Bennett Road.
We grew enough vegetables to fill our 10 hungry stomachs and sold the rest to have meat on the table too. I’m convinced that the fact that each of us typically ate a dozen ears of corn with every meal keeps me “regular” even to this day.
And he taught us about duty, honor, discipline, fairness, honesty, and integrity. He demonstrated and taught us commitment to family, friends, neighbors and our community. Lessons I try to live each day.
Growing up on Bennett Road… and with the help of great next-door neighbors like Ed and Theresa Latimore, and Don and Doris Milks, our parents gave us the chance to explore many of life’s lessons on our own, to make our own mistakes, to make our own choices and to live with the consequences – good or bad.
And with 21 kids spread across three households, team parenting was sometimes a necessity.
It was the kind of neighborhood that whichever house you were in at dinnertime, that’s where you ate. Somehow, my brother Steve managed to time it so that he was always at Latimore’s whenever Theresa made spaghetti.
David once ran away and lived in Latimore’s basement for a few days. Theresa finally noticed that her son Tommy was taking more than his share at the dinner table and called my mother to let her know where David was. He was eventually extradited back to our house in the open “child exchange program” our parents shared.
And with the neighbors who lived between our house and Latimore’s, (you know who I mean), my father’s lessons alternated between “turn the other cheek” and “don’t take that crap from anyone.”
My father was a painfully slow eater. I got that from him too. You see, in our house, whoever was done eating first had to start doing the dishes. I never did a dish in my life.
He understood and taught me patience. He strained to exercise patience every time he took me fishing on Lake Erie – and every time I dropped my fishing pole over the side of the boat into the water, never to be seen again.
I am truly happy for my father. I’ve never known someone who was so fully prepared for the next step, understanding that our lives here on earth are just a small slice in time, the preparation phase, a fraction of the eternity we will truly have together.
As it says in Acts 13, I am proud to say that my father “…served God’s purpose in his own generation.”
I am thankful for the time I had with my father and cherished every moment of it. As I’ve told many people over the past month, we ended every conversation with “I love you.” After that, not much else matters. With that, we can get through anything… together.
I thank Carol for giving my father 25 years of true love, real happiness and unwavering devotion.
And thanks to Kenny, Kevin and Kim for embracing and loving Dad as your own.
Twenty-five years together is a long time that should not be overlooked. It’s certainly “nothing to sneeze at” as my father would say.
I need to publicly thank my brothers David and Randy, and my stepsister Kim for being there with Dad at the end.
And I owe a debt of gratitude to Terry for being by his side for that entire last week, loving him and comforting, consoling and guiding Carol through the maze of medical terms and treatments.
Terry played interpreter between Carol and the doctors and, most importantly, ensured that Dad was getting the best possible care and most appropriate treatment right up until the end.
And, I’d like to take this opportunity to thank every one of you for being here with us today. This shows us just how interconnected we all are, how our family is an extension of yours, and how much my father touched so many lives.
Your demonstration of support and the outpouring of kindness and love is the true tribute to who my father was: a kind and gentle man, full of life, loving and caring – a true friend to the very end.
My father, Earl Roy Schmittendorf, Sr. was many things to many people.
What did he mean to you?