- Editor’s Note: This is the first of a series of articles honoring veterans and members of the U.S. Armed Forces, leading up to Veterans Day, Nov. 11, 2017.
After more than 70 years — and thanks to a determined Frenchman and a vital assist from two Kane County public servants — a WWII veteran’s dog tag found in Eulmont, France, has been returned to the late veteran’s family.
“This is almost an unbelievable story,” John Schmidt told the Storm Lake, IO, Pilot Tribune.
The story began about two years ago, when a French family in the village of Eulmont found a U.S. dog tag bearing the name of Arthur D. Schmidt, and transferred it to a family friend, Frederic Rombi of St. Die.
According to the Pilot Tribune story, Rombi at first was hesitant to try to contact the owner out of concern that it belonged to a deceased GI and might bring up sad memories. But he held onto the tag for safekeeping and ultimately decided to reach out to the soldier’s family.
“Finally, he began to search the U.S. archives and found Arthur Schmidt’s name, where he had lived and where he was drafted from,” the Pilot Tribune said. “Arthur had grown up in West Bend (IA), but prior to joining the military in 1941 had moved to Illinois as a young man to find work during the Great Depression.”
That clue led Rombi to contact the Kane County Sheriff’s Office via Facebook Messenger.
The Kane County Connection
Lt. Pat Gengler fielded the post, but wasn’t sure where to begin to help find Schmidt’s records. So Gengler contacted Jacob Zimmerman, superintendent of the Kane County Veterans Assistance Commission.
And Zimmerman came through in a big way.
Zimmerman researched the National Archives and found Schmidt’s Matching Military Record and Death Record, which led him in turn to a legacy.com obituary that had been published in the Daily Herald.
Sadly, Schmidt had died in 2004 at the age of 86. But his obit contained more clues — that he was a 55-year resident of Elgin and confirming his military service.
“Art was very proud of his service as a World War II veteran, having served in the 3rd Infantry Division,” the obituary said.
But even more importantly, the obituary revealed the names of Schmidt’s children and grandchildren.
Rombi wasn’t able track down Schmidt’s son, because “apparently, my name was too common,” John Schmidt told the Pilot Tribune.
But Rombi was able to use a Facebook search to find two granddaughters: Anne Dahlhauser of Storm Lake, IA, and Rachel Fehr of Centennial, CO.
A Special Delivery
At first, the granddaughters weren’t sure whether the Facebook contact was a scam, so they contacted their father.
John Schmidt knew his father had been in France during the war, and had some of his history books on the 3rd Infantry Division.
“So I got them out and started checking,” he told the Pilot Tribune. “Sure enough, he had been exactly where the dog tag had been found.”
The tag found by the family in the village of Eulmont was a few miles from the city of Nancy. The village was delivered from Nazi occupation by the Allied Forces in September of 1944, with the Battle of Nancy.
Rombi mailed the dog tag to Schmidt, and the two have become good friends through social media — a connection that spans two cultures, thousands of miles and more than seven decades.
“I am so proud to share this part of history with a hero’s family,” Rombi told the Schmidt family in a letter accompanying the tag. “It is thanks to women and men like your father that we live in a free Europe.”
SOURCE: Kane County Veterans Assistance Commission, Kane County Sheriff’s Office and Storm Lake Post Tribune