RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - The remains of a Richmond man killed in the attack on Pearl Harbor are returning home after nearly 80 years.
Navy Fireman 1st Class Andrew J. Schmitz was killed at the age of 26 during the attack on Dec. 7, 1941.
According to the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA), Schmitz was assigned to the battleship USS Oklahoma when it was attacked by Japanese aircraft.
“The USS Oklahoma sustained multiple torpedo hits, which cause it to quickly capsize,” a press release said. “The attack on the ship resulted in the deaths of 429 crewmen, including Schmitz.”
For decades Schmitz’s remains were unable to be identified and he was eventually buried at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific.
Meanwhile, here in Virginia, his name was added to the thousands of other names on the walls of the Virginia War Memorial.
“A lot of families [there],” said Anne Schmitz, his great niece.
Most of these fallen servicemen and women have since returned home to their final resting place, but for Schmitz it’s taken nearly 80 years.
“A long time coming,” Schmitz said. “He’s a hero.”
Schmitz enlisted in the Navy in 1934.
“By 1936 he had been promoted to Fireman 2nd class, and then by 1938 he had been promoted to Fireman 1st class,” Schmitz said.
However, 12 days after his 26th birthday - Schmitz was gone. He had served one year and one day aboard the USS Oklahoma.
“He gave his life for this country in an act of war that will never be forgotten,” Schmitz said.
Schmitz was never forgotten, but the military had a difficult time identifying him.
After several attempted identification efforts and burials out west, DPAA personnel exhumed the USS Oklahoma “unknowns”, including Schmitz, for analysis from the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in 2015, also known as the Punchbowl.
Four years later, Schmitz’s niece, Dale McClure got a phone call.
"She went on to telling me she was working with the Navy and it was on Andrew Schmitz and I said oh good, good, good, tell me!” McClure said.
Through new technology using dental and anthropological analysis, scientists were finally able to identify Andrew Schmitz.
“Additionally, scientists from the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System used mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) and Y-chromosome DNA (Y-STR) analysis,” a press release said.
The Richmond native’s name was recorded on the Courts of the Missing at the Punchbowl, but now a rosette will be placed next to his name signifying he has been accounted for.
"I think he’s probably saying finally, I get to go home,” Schmitz said. “I get to be around my family again where I grew up."
The house where Schmitz lived before he joined the Navy still stands near Mechanicsville Turnpike. While time has changed the neighborhood, time is also what lead this family to answers.
“Yup... next week he comes home,” McClure said. “He does that.”
Schmitz will be buried at Virginia Veterans Cemetery in Amelia on March 6.
“I think it’s going to be magnificent,” McClure said. “From all I heard it’s going to be quite an honor.”
While none of Schmitz’s 13 siblings are alive today, his return home is expected to draw dozens of extended family members.
“We have family coming up from Alabama, coming up from Georgia, just for the service,” Schmitz said. “Family that we’ve never even met before.”
In fact, Schmitz and McClure have an interesting story of their own.
“We just met yesterday,” McClure said. “Yes, we just met for the first time yesterday,” Schmitz added.
As McClure, the oldest living relative of Andrew Schmitz, thinks about the journey to get to this point, she’s comforted in the countless hours put in to identifying her uncle.
“It never crossed my mind that anything more would become of the fact that his name was on a wall somewhere,” she said.
Schmitz was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart, American Defense Service Medal, Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal and the World War II Victory Medal.
On March 6, 2020, Schmitz will be buried at Virginia Veterans Cemetery in Amelia with full military honors. Several local law enforcement agencies and Patriot Guard members will participate in the procession.
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