Born on New Year’s Eve 1924 in Winnetka, Gilbert Schmidt served in World War II as a United States Marine. He attended Sacred Heart School and went on to New Trier High School, where he graduated with honors in 1942. While in high school, Schmidt worked at Phelan’s Winnetka Drug Company. Recognizing his intelligence and work ethic, Mr. Phelan offered to put Schmidt through college. When his parents refused, Schmidt left home and joined the Marine Corps.
Schmidt enlisted in July 1942 and completed his basic training in San Diego, becoming part of the 8th Defensive Battalion, 2nd Marine Division. He served as a field cook, specifically a baker,ensuring that his fellow soldiers had the food they needed to fight. After only two months of training, Schmidt was sent overseas to Samoa in the southwest Pacific. From there, he participated in the island hopping campaigns, serving on Wallis Island, the Gilbert Islands, and later, Hawaii.
Schmidt experienced the worst fighting in the Gilbert Islands. Members of the 2nd Marine Division landed on Tarawa Atoll, part of the Gilbert Islands, on November 20, 1943. The objective for the invasion was to destroy a Japanese base that was inflicting heavy damages on the American supply route through the south Pacific. The invasion was extremely difficult, as landing craft got trapped on coral reefs and Marines had to wade through chest-deep water to get ashore, all while under fire. Schmidt arrived a few days after the initial assault and participated in action against the Japanese. Since he couldn’t divulge his location in the letters he wrote to his family, he would stress his name, Gilbert, hoping that they would recognize that he was in the Gilbert Islands.
Although Schmidt was not physically wounded during the war, the trauma of his experiences left him with combat fatigue and little desire to recount his memories. After the war, Schmidt returned to Winnetka and worked for the Winnetka Fire Department.