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Veteran honored with Purple Heart 100 years after his injury

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It was time Benjamin Schmidt received credit for the valor he showed on the battlefield. 

And 100 years late is better than never.

Schmidt, a soldier from DeWitt in the First World War received the Purple Heart posthumously on Sunday at a ceremony at the Veterans Club in Beatrice.

Schmidt’s daughter, Betty Deats, was instrumental in obtaining the award for her father after all this time. She contacted Phil Dittbrenner, the Gage County veteran’s services officer, who then contacted U.S. Senator Deb Fischer’s office.

Schmidt was wounded at the battle of St. Mihiel in France on Sept. 15, 1918. He was a member of the 89th division of the US Army, a group of soldiers from mostly from the Midwest. After the war, Schmidt returned to DeWitt and was active in the American Legion, which was founded after World War One.

Purple Heart recipients present at the ceremony stood and were recognized by the audience for their sacrifice. Major General Jim Barr (retired) presented the award to Deats and her family, saying it was an honor to bestow the award.

Barr said that the Purple Heart award was first given by George Washington after the Revolutionary War in 1782 as an award for valor. The award was not used again until 1932, when it became an award only given to those killed and wounded.

Deats thanked the crowd for coming and drew attention to a picture of her father and other mementos the family had brought for the ceremony. The bullet that struck Schmidt was on display at the front of the room, along with some World War era military gear.

Dittbrenner said that once Deats and her daughter came in to ask about the Purple Heart, he did some research and believed Schmidt was eligible.

He said he was glad to see the Gage County community unite to honor a hero, even so long after his sacrifice.

“We’ve got a patriotic community,” Dittbrenner said, “everyone is always happy to help with things like this.”

Deats said her daughter Karen Hansen had been persistent in working to get her grandfather the Purple Heart award. She was also thankful for Dittbrenner’s help in the process.

Deats said that her father rarely spoke about the war, but that he did tell one story. Once, the Red Çross handed out candy bars to the soldiers and took their picture. After the picture, the Red Cross re-collected the candy bars and moved on to the next unit.

Schmidt was a carpenter and a farmer, and Deats said he enjoyed working outside.

Most of her family is gone, Deats said, so it meant a lot to her to receive the award.

“It was very wonderful that it finally did get accomplished,” she said.

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