When 23-year-old Air Force Lt. Harry Schmitt went missing during a flight over the Atlantic Ocean in 1958, his Queens community mourned.
His family moved to Long Island after the tragedy and never knew Schmitt’s name had been placed on a white cross and added to the American Legion Post 118’s Garden of Remembrance in Woodhaven.
For the first time since learning about the memorial, Schmitt’s family returned to Woodhaven for a Memorial Day tribute to their relative and other fallen veterans.
“It’s wonderful to think, after all (the) years, somebody remembered him,” said Schmitt’s sister, Margaret Bowmaster, of Farmingdale. “I hadn’t heard his name mentioned outside the family for 60 years.”
Bowmaster’s son, Patrick Bowmaster, learned about the memorial about a year ago while researching a book he plans to write about his uncle. He connected with Ed Wendell, of the Woodhaven Cultural and Historical Society, who worked with The American Legion to add a special dedication to Schmitt in its annual Memorial Day ceremony.
“We’re very honored that he hasn’t been forgotten,” said Patrick Bowmaster, who traveled from Massachusetts with his wife, Donna, and 8-year-old daughter, Abby, for the event. “And I tell my daughter we have a hero in the family because he gave his life for the country.”
Schmitt was remembered as a promising scholar and athlete whose name and achievements appeared frequently in the local newspapers. He was an outstanding cadet, musician and star baseball player at Franklin K. Lane High School and Queens College.
“He could do anything; he was such a versatile guy,” said Margaret Bowmaster, who was just 19 years old when her brother went missing. “It’s painful because he had so much promise.”
Family members said Schmitt was based at the Air Force Base in Dover, Delaware, and served as a navigator.
While on a routine flight, the pilot and Schmitt were sent up to intercept and identify a plane. The pilot heard a noise, and thinking there was engine trouble, told Schmitt to eject from the plane, according to Patrick Bowmaster.
The pilot survived, but Schmitt’s body was never recovered.
Margaret Bowmaster’s husband, Albert, who was in the Air Force at the time, remembered hearing the bulletin about the tragic accident.
“I did not know my wife at that time, but I took note of it,” he said.
Supporting families like the Bowmasters is important, according to John Lawless, the vice commander of Woodhaven Post 118.
“For them, every day is Memorial Day,” Lawless said.