Posted on Mon, May. 03, 2004
Bradenton soldier killed in Iraq bomb blast
AIMEE JUAREZ and ANNETTE AYRES
Herald Staff Writers
MANATEE - At age 23, Spc. Justin Bryan Schmidt of Bradenton wanted to make the military his career.
He re-enlisted earlier this year. He was going to celebrate his 24th birthday May 13. And he planned on getting married May 19 in Germany.
Four days before his tour was scheduled to end in Iraq, he learned that he and other troops' stay there would be extended for another three months. He postponed his wedding.
Then, the news came Thursday to his family that he was among eight soldiers killed in Baghdad when a vehicle approached their unit and the driver detonated a bomb.
The 1998 Manatee High School graduate was assigned to the Army's 4th Battalion, 27th Field Artillery Regiment, 1st Armored Division, in Baumholder, Germany, according to a news release issued late Sunday by the U.S. Department of Defense.
"He wanted to serve his country," Schmidt's grandmother, Jan Schmidt of Bradenton, told the Herald on Sunday. "He was a regular, typical kind of kid."
He is the second known Manatee County resident to die while serving in Iraq. On April 6, 19-year-old U.S. Marine Corps Pfc. Christopher Cobb died there.
A phone call from the U.S. Army notified Schmidt's older brother, Jason Schmidt, 25, the same day Justin died.
"I sent him an e-mail the day that this happened, hoping that he was OK," he said by telephone from North Carolina. "It's just unfortunate that this had to happen; he believed in what he was doing."
Jason Schmidt then called his father, Victor Schmidt, who had served about seven years in the Air Force and had been named MacDill's Airman of the Year in 1976, to deliver the tragic news. The two now live in North Carolina but still have a home in Bradenton.
Schmidt's father said he was notified by the Army by telephone Thursday before a representative from the Army visited him in person Friday.
"Justin was trying to carry on tradition," Victor Schmidt said of his son.
Justin's grandfather, retired Air Force Lt. Col. John N. Schmidt of Bradenton, served two tours of duty in Vietnam and was highly decorated, according to Victor Schmidt.
"He was going to make it a career," Victor Schmidt said of Justin.
Justin enlisted shortly after terrorists attacked America on Sept. 11, 2001.
Victor and Jason Schmidt plan to return to Bradenton this week, and family members have said they hope to hold a memorial service in the area. Justin's body had not returned to the United States as of Sunday night, his father said.
Justin's mother, Lenore Roberts of Minnesota, could not be reached for comment; several telephone calls were placed to her home Sunday.
"Justin was just about everybody's friend," his father said.
He learned to swim at an early age and loved being outdoors.
Justin Schmidt attended Daughtrey Elementary School and Harllee Middle School. He attended Bayshore High School for three years where he was on the wrestling team and also participated in JROTC as a cadet.
Among those who had met the young man was Col. Larry R. Burnette, a JROTC instructor at Bayshore High, where Schmidt attended school before transferring to Manatee High.
"I was saddened by the death of Spc. Justin Schmidt," Burnette said by telephone. "Justin was a student at Bayshore High School, and a JROTC cadet during that time.
"As an old soldier, I hold precious every serviceman's life. Justin gave the last full measure for his country and the country shall honor his memory."
While the death has brought tragedy to the Bradenton family, Jason Schmidt feels it is necessary to honor the memory of his fallen brother.
"He went over there with a purpose," Jason Schmidt said of his younger brother. "He wasn't thinking of himself, he was thinking of the people he was trying to help.
"I'm just really thankful for everyone's support in a time of need like this. He's definitely my hero."
Justin Schmidt, 23, was a Manatee High School graduate