Urn with old soldier's ashes vanish from van in D.C.

By Clarence Williams
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 13, 2009

Everything was set for retired Army Col. Norbert Otto Schmidt to be buried Friday with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery. But on Thursday afternoon, his ashes disappeared out of the back of a rented van in an apparent theft that has thrown the family's plans into turmoil.

A brass urn containing the remains of Schmidt, a Bronze Star recipient who was 83 when he died of pneumonia in August, had traveled from Satellite Beach, Fla., to Washington in recent days for the ceremony.

"Basically, we're in town for my father's burial tomorrow, and somebody stole him out of our van," Carol Schmidt said in a near-sob.

The incident began after family members finalized arrangements at Arlington and drove the 12-seater van to the National Museum of the American Indian on the Mall about 3 p.m. Thursday. When the relatives returned to the parked van, in the 300 block of Jefferson Avenue SW, about an hour later, the lock on its door was broken, they said.

The brass urn had been inside a turquoise bag. Also missing were a computer, jewelry and electronic equipment, along with Schmidt's Army discharge papers and his death certificate.

"They should be happy with all the other stuff they got," Carol Schmidt said. "My mom is never going to recover from the thought of my dad being dumped in some alleyway someplace."

D.C. police are investigating but have no firm leads Thursday night, according to police spokesman Quintin Peterson.

Col. Schmidt graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in 1949 and served in the Korean War as a member of the 65th Engineers, receiving two Purple Hearts and the Bronze Star.

He got a master's degree in civil engineering at Harvard and a PhD at the University of Illinois. Schmidt later joined the University of Missouri in Rolla as an engineering professor.

He moved to Florida in 1991 and died Aug. 4. In addition to his daughter Carol, he is survived by his wife of 55 years, Donna Schmidt, a son, three other daughters and numerous grandchildren.

Family members said that the ceremony, scheduled for 1 p.m., can go on without the ashes but that no burial will take place until they are returned or found. The family is offering $1,000 for the return of the urn and its contents in time for them to be buried.

"If someone can come running up with to the chapel by 1 p.m. . . . they can send somebody up with the urn. It's $1,000 and no questions asked," Carol Schmidt said.

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