By Cheryl Allen and Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger
A package arrived in the mail this fall at the Wellman home of Milton and Pat Schmida that contained keepsakes of faith and service, lost for 65 years but now found. Milton and Pat, members of Holy Family Parish-St. Joseph Church, Wellman, cherish the dusty rosary and military ID tag and the story of the keepsakes’ return.
The story begins 70 years ago, after Milton left home in Mitchell, South Dakota, and joined the Navy. Assigned to a classified position in communications, he completed five years of service, from 1952 to 1957. He spent time stationed in Italy and traveled around Europe while on leave. He returned home to South Dakota with rosaries he
purchased for family members.
In the years that followed, Milton graduated from college, married Pat in 1959 and moved on with a career in education and counseling while raising six children with his wife. The rosaries and ID tag remained in his boyhood home. Pat has fond memories of that small home, where Milton’s mother welcomed all and always had room for more. “It was a haven in a storm,” a place the family enjoyed stopping by on travels over the years — although they did not go inside because it belonged to someone else, Pat said.
A few weeks ago, Milton’s nephew, Corey Schmida, was traveling through Mitchell while visiting colleges with his daughter. He decided to stop at his grandmother’s old house to show his daughter where her grandpa grew up. The pair knocked on the door, introduced themselves to the current owner and asked if they could walk around the house.
When Corey introduced himself, the homeowner “asked him if he was a Schmida,” Pat said. The man retreated into his home and emerged minutes later with Milton’s rosary and ID tag. He had found them while removing a wall during a remodeling project. No one knows why the rosary and ID tag ended up together. Pat speculates that Milton must have chosen that rosary or had it with him when he entered the service. “I can see his mother giving it to him when he left for the service. She would do that.”
The homeowner placed the rosary and ID tag in a box and shipped them to the couple. Pat knew the package was coming but wanted as many family members as possible to be present for the opening. Milton experiences mild dementia, his wife said. He reacted with surprise when he saw the rosary and ID tag from so long ago.
Recently, Milton received a cancer diagnosis. Hospice care keeps him comfortable and his family takes comfort in the return of his lost treasures. “We are so grateful that this all happened while he’s with us,” Pat said.
As they contemplated the return of the rosary and ID tag, Milton reflected on his favorite part of serving in the Navy. “I think the comradeship,” he said. “You belong to something.” Pat considers the 63 years she and Milton have been married. Time has done nothing to lessen the way she feels about her great love. “I still really, really like him,” she says, smiling. “I love him, but I like him.”
She prays the rosary, but not the one recovered and displayed with the ID tag in a box on a sofa table. “I know God knows what I want,” Pat said. If I do pray for special intentions, it’s for Milton.”
(Cheryl Allen is news editor of The News in Kalona.)