For Peter Schmidt, a retired law enforcement specialist with the Air Force, the highlight of his near two-decade long career is being on a Philippine Air Force base when prisoners of war (POWs) were returned safely.
"If I have to tell a story to my grandkids, which I do all the time, that is probably the biggest story of my heart that I could tell is the POWs coming home from Vietnam," he said. "It was so cool, just to see them land on the flight line at Clark (Air Force base) and to see the doors open, the guys come out and go to their knees and kiss the ground and stuff like that, it was unreal."
As a law enforcement specialist, Schmidt was tasked with protecting the bases, acting as a regular cop to whichever base he was assigned.
His 21-year active service began only two months after he turned 18, originally being drafted with the Army during the Vietnam War. It wasn't until a buddy asked Schmidt to take him to the Air Force recruiter, that he considered switching branches.
Two weeks later, both Schmidt and his friend were getting their evals and physicals, he said. Ironically, his friend failed the tests leaving Schmidt to fend for himself.
"I wound up in the Air Force by myself, but hell, it was a good time," he laughed.
His first assignment was in Columbus, Ohio, where he stayed for about five to six months, then traveling to MacDill Air Force base in Tampa, Florida, where he met his wife and became a father in August of 1972.
Schmidt then left America to be assigned to Clark Air Force base in the Philippines and spent three years there until 1975 when a brief assignment returned him to Washington, D.C., which Schmidt says was his least favorite assignment because of the high cost of living.
Returning for a second tour of the Philippines with his wife and child, he stayed for another two years, where he began to coach kids at the base in any and all sports which he recalls as one of his favorite things to do during his service.
After he was taken back to the U.S. and stationed at the military prison in Leavenworth, Kansas, Schmidt began to think he was not going to re-enlist unless he could be transferred out. To his reluctance, he arrived at his new home at the Aviano Air Force base in Italy.
With a 8-week-old newborn, his wife and oldest daughter, the family spent four years at the base where Schmidt continued coaching military kids' sports. A group that he coached went on to represent Europe for the Little League World Series in baseball.
The family found themselves in Abilene, Texas, which was "not a pleasant assignment" as Schmidt's wife became sick with cancer, causing the family to return to her home in Florida with Schmidt receiving a humanitarian reassignment in 1985 going back to MacDill Air Force base.
He retired from active duty military in September of 1991, going to work as a police officer which he said was not for him. Taking another security job, it wasn't until he found himself back at the Tampa military base, "getting the job of his life" working as the youth sports director.
"It was great, I got to hire the coaches," he reminisced. "That was the best job of my life coaching all the military kids that were on the base in all the different sports."
Schmidt told The Register that he and his wife moved to Richmond in April of 2014, following his daughter's family to be close to them.
"We visited the family several times during the holidays after they moved here in 2012," he said. "Finally I told my wife when I officially retire in March of 2014, I am going to go up there. We moved into our home in April 2014."
This wasn't Schmidt's first experience in the Bluegrass state having been sent to the University of Louisville in 1989 for crime prevention school by the Air Force for three weeks.
"I loved it up here, I loved it," he said. "Of course, it was Derby week so we enjoyed that part of it all. It was great, it was just a great thing."
He said it wasn't until his time in Kentucky that he began to experience people thanking him for his service, and stopping him to shake his hand.
"People would stop me in the stores thanking me for my service," he remembered. "When I first entered the military, there was no sort of thing like that, we got only negative comments, and were called baby-killers and things like that."
"Those guys were young guys and they never got credit for everything," he recalled of former soldiers. "Now we see how it is coming around, there are Vietnam Memorials and veterans wear their hats and people stop and say 'thank you for your service.' It crushed me to not see these guys get any of the credit that was due. It was a job, I did it, I loved it and could have gotten out any time I wanted to but I enjoyed doing what I did."
For Schmidt, he said his biggest takeaway from his time in the military is the camaraderie and respect everyone has for one another, no matter what branch they serve in saying "you could always count on the person next to you."
"I always talk about my family," he said. "My family comes first and I always said that I have two families and that if there is anyone in my second family that ever needs help he can call me and stuff but the camaraderie in the military was just amazing. I would do it again, if they would let me, I would go back in. I have no disregard for any of it."
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