“We have an obligation to the soldier who didn’t come home, to honor the one that did…”
These words were echoed by special guest speaker Paul Loeffler to describe the honoring of World War II hero Vern Schmidt on March 10. Schmidt, 96, was presented an Honorary Commemorative Medal for his actions towards the liberation of a concentration camp in then Czechoslovakia in May of 1945.
The event was held at the Clovis Veterans Memorial District. Local veterans, representatives and others were in attendance. The presentation was initially scheduled for 2020, the 75th anniversary of WWII, but was postponed due to the pandemic.
Czech Col. Jindrich Hacker and Major Jan Pekár, members of the Czech Republic Attaché, flew out from the Washington D.C. embassy to present Schmidt his medal.
“To have [the Czech Republic Attaché] come from the Embassy in Washington D.C. to come to one little ole’ guy who is 96-years-old and present a medal for something we did many many years ago. I am so honored,” Schmidt said.
Hacker said that without people like Schmidt, they would not have freedom and wouldn’t be able to do something like this. They additionally offered Schmidt gifts such as alcohol from the Czech Republic and flowers.
Hacker also compared Schmidt’s actions in WWII to the people of Ukraine currently fighting against Russian forces.
“People in Ukraine, they are fighting for their freedom now,” Hacker said. “These people need heroes like Vernon.”
Along with the attaché, local representatives from the community were present for the ceremony.
Clovis City mayor Jose Flores also mentioned the war in Ukraine during his speech and called it “ironic” that we find ourselves today in similar situations.
“It seems like some people can’t remember history, and people like Vern are here to remind us of that history,” Flores said. “They say that those that forget history are bound to repeat it.”
Fresno City mayor Jerry Dyer originally canceled his appearance at Schmidt’s ceremony due to previous obligations but the morning of cleared his calendar to make sure he’d be in attendance for Schmidt.
Dyer mentioned in his speech that true American heroes are “those who have served in our military” and went on to say that Schmidt is a true American hero. Dyer also highlighted a quote that was once told to him by Schmidt and also drew comparisons to Ukraine.
“Democracy is a very precious commodity,” Dyer said, quoting Schmidt. “That’s why we see people today in Ukraine, who are fighting for their lives and their country, but they’re fighting for democracy.”
Loeffler, whose great grandparents immigrated from the Czech Republic to the United States, made sure to find a way back from his prior arrangements to be in attendance for his “good friend” Vern. Loeffler was in Las Vegas to commentate on the Fresno State Men’s Basketball run in the 2022 Mountain West Tournament.
Schmidt was a part of the Army’s 90th Infantry Division during WWII. Schmidt, a Reedley High School graduate, was drafted in 1944 at the age of 18. He would then head overseas to fight in January of 1945.
“Here in Clovis, we honor our veterans every single day. Our values are not what you talk about, values are what you live…” said the CEO of the Clovis Veterans Memorial District Lorenzo Rios. “They are never forgotten, and the sacrifice of their families are never forgotten here.”