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Friday, Apr. 29, 2016

Purple Heart recipient speaks to Monett students

Monday, November 14, 2011

Paul Schmitz, Jr., was the guest speaker at Friday's Veterans Day assembly held at Monett High School. He spoke of being injured during his tour of duty in Iraq and returning home to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. [Times Photo by Melonie Roberts]
Local veterans were honored guests at an assembly held last Friday at Monett High School in observance of Veterans Day.

Guest speaker for the event was Army Staff Sgt. Paul Schmitz, Jr.

Schmitz served two tours of duty in South Korea. He was stationed at Ft. Benning, Ga., and later at Ft. Lewis, Wash. Schmitz graduated Primary Leadership Course and Sniper School at Ft. Benning.

Several members of the Monett American Legion Post #91 were on hand at the Veterans Day ceremonies held Friday at Monett High School, where they were honored for their selfless sacrifice to this country. [Times Photo by Melonie Roberts]
Schmitz then served during Operation Iraqi Freedom, where he was seriously injured and subsequently discharged from the Army after 11 years of service.

"I want to talk about patriotism," Schmitz said.

He started by telling of his injuries that he received while serving with the Quick Reaction Force in northern Iraq.

Members of the Pierce City High School Student Council hosted an honors luncheon and assembly for several area veterans and their spouses last Thursday. The ceremony included the history of Veterans Day and a poem. The Pierce City High School Band performed "Grand Ol' Flag" and "Yankee Doodle." [Times Photo by Melonie Roberts]
"A convoy was ambushed," Schmitz said. "We responded and secured the site and set the perimeter. I'm sure all veterans will understand what I mean when I say, 'All hell broke loose.'

"We were taking small arms fire, mortar rounds and RPGs, and in the middle of a fire fight, I felt something that took the breath out of me," he continued. "I literally had to lay down my weapon in a fire

fight to catch my breath. Then, starting from the waist down, I couldn't feel my legs."

World War II veteran John Ruston was the recipient of the American Flag used in the Veterans Day honor ceremonies. [Times Photo by Melonie Roberts]
Another soldier in the vehicle helped him to the floor and examined his body until he located an exit wound.

"I was praying to God that if anything was gonna happen to me to let it be then, because I didn't want my son going through anything too hard," Schmitz recalled. "[The soldier] looked at me and said, 'You're not going anywhere.' I had my answer."

Schmitz underwent surgery and was transported to a hospital in Germany. From there, he was flown to Walter Reed, where he was met by his parents the following morning. It was there that doctors discovered his L4 vertebrae had been shattered.

While undergoing treatment for his injuries at Walter Reed Army Medical Center at Bethesda, Md., a man handed him a copy of the book "War Above the Trees," by Ron Carey. The book tells of Plei Trap Valley in Vietnam (Operation Wayne Grey) during March and April of 1969.

Schmitz said while reading that book he realized some of the dangers his father experienced during his tour of duty.

"The book told how my dad was on a re-supply mission when a 'Mayday' call came in," Schmitz said. "His chopper was in the area and they responded to the coordinates and I read how my dad was hanging upside down out of a helicopter with the gunner holding his feet as he helped rescue those men.

"It was then that their chopper came under heavy fire," Schmitz said. "The pilot managed to maneuver about three clicks away before the chopper crashed and they were rescued by another helicopter.

"I grew up hearing stories about my dad's military service, but it wasn't until I was injured that I finally heard how my dad became a hero to another family," Schmitz continued. "I read amazing things about my dad that I had never heard. That day, my father became a true hero to me."

Schmitz said that every veteran had a common bond.

"We would lay down our lives for our country and for our brothers to the left and to the right of us," Schmitz said. "A lot of guys never got thanked, and there are a lot of us sleeping better at night because of what they did."

Finally, Schmitz urged the audience to remember to thank military service personnel and veterans.

"Sit down with a vet and ask him his story sometime," he said. "You will hear about amazing things and people."

Schmitz received two Purple Hearts, five Army Commendations with Valor, five Army Achievement Medals, three Good Conduct Medals, two National Defense Medals, the War on Global Terrorism Medal, three overseas service ribbons, a combat infantry badge and the Stalk Master Award from Sniper School.

Students were given yellow ribbons in their second hour class to wear throughout the day to show their thankfulness, pride, honor and remembrance for soldiers and veterans.

The ceremony also included the presentation of colors by members of the Southwest Area Career Center Junior ROTC program, a demonstration on the folding and the meaning of each fold of the American Flag and a haunting rendition of "Taps" played by two Cub Pride Marching Band trumpeters. The ceremony ended with "Veterans Salute," performed by the Cub Pride Marching Band.

Veterans Day assemblies and special events were also held at Pierce City, Purdy, Verona and Wheaton high schools.

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