As a young man, he went to Queens College where he excelled on the baseball diamond and in the classroom. He was honored as a distinguished military graduate and received his commission as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Air Force, where he trained to be a pilot.
He was just 23 years old and his future was bright, but Woodhaven was still close to his heart. While stationed at an Air Force base in Dover, Delaware, as a radar observer, he kept an old postcard of Forest Parkway in his locker.
He kept in touch with his folks regularly and they spoke about his next visit to his old hometown. It fact, his bags were already packed and he was ready to go on leave.
And he would be bringing home a surprise for his family, the young woman who he was planning to make his wife.
But Harry Schmitt never came home. In July 1958, he was killed while on a routine flight over the Atlantic off the coast of Cape May.
As with any accident, the details of what happened are as murky as the waters Harry Schmitt’s plane crashed into. It appears that the pilot did not realize how low he was flying. In fact, he may have even skipped the jet across the top of the ocean.
The pilot ordered Harry Schmitt to bail, but because the plane was so low when he ejected, his parachute never opened. The Air Force speculated that he must have broken his neck when he hit the ocean, but we’ll never know for certain as the young man from Woodhaven was never found.
It was front page news here in Woodhaven. Lt. Harry Joseph Schmitt was remembered at a Solemn High Mass of Requiem at St. Thomas the Apostle Church.
The Leader-Observer expressed their grief and fondly remembered the boy who delivered this newspaper.
“From the first day when he took his papers out on his route, his spirit of affable friendliness endeared him to everyone,” the paper recalled in an editorial.
They remembered his cheery greetings whenever he entered the newspaper’s office on Jamaica Avenue, and they shared how friendly Harry was to all of the customers on his paper route.
“The memory of Harry Schmitt’s grin and exuberant 'Hi!' will never be forgotten,” the Leader wrote.
Over time, though, Harry Schmitt was forgotten in Woodhaven, except by one group, American Legion Post 118. Over the past 60 years, our local American Legion has been honoring its members in their Garden of Remembrance.
It is a beautiful sight, a field of crosses filling the front yard of the post, each marker representing a member of the post who is no longer with us. A ceremony is held every year in honor of those that the markers represent.
And for each of those 60 years, Harry Schmitt has been part of that Garden of Remembrance. He has been remembered and honored by Post 118 and all of the residents that come out each Memorial Day to pay their respects.
Harry Schmitt’s family no longer lives in Woodhaven, having moved out to Long Island many years ago.
They were not aware of the Garden of Remembrance and they were overwhelmed with emotion, grateful that he is still remembered in Woodhaven these six decades after the accident that cut short his bright and promising future.
On Monday May 28, Memorial Day, American Legion Post 118 will be holding their annual ceremony in front of the Garden of Remembrance. The family will be coming back to Woodhaven to attend the ceremony and visit the marker bearing the name of Lt. Harry Joseph Schmitt.
American Legion Post 118 will be honoring Schmitt along with all of the others who are no longer with us. Everyone is invited to attend, and afterwards all are welcome to come inside for some neighborly fellowship and refreshments.
The ceremony starts at 11 a.m. in front of the post at 89-02 91st Street, behind PS 60 on 89th Avenue. It’s a beautiful ceremony and a fitting way for any resident to start Memorial Day, remembering the young man from Woodhaven along with all of the others who gave their lives for our great nation.