Grand marshal stresses solidarity with Memorial Day celebrations

Grand marshal stresses solidarity with Memorial Day celebrations

Al Schmidt wants residents to enjoy the city’s holiday
celebrations Monday, but doesn’t want them to forget why they’re
there.
Al Schmidt wants residents to enjoy the city’s holiday celebrations Monday, but doesn’t want them to forget why they’re there.

The grand marshal of Gilroy’s Memorial Day parade stressed the day’s true meaning would be revealed two hours before floats and parade marchers set out on their routes.

A remembrance ceremony at 9 a.m. in the St. Mary’s Cemetery on First Street will pay tribute to fallen troops and offer attendees a chance to reflect on the sacrifices that have made the United States “the No. 1 country in the world,” said the 78-year-old U.S. Navy veteran who has served as chaplain of Gilroy’s American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars posts.

“The cemetery at 9 in the morning – that’s the big thing,” Schmidt said. “The parade is an add-on.”

Schmidt, who has been a Morgan Hill resident for the past 30 years, said the title of grand marshal was “something I very much appreciate.”

“I was hoping eventually I would get it, but I was very surprised when I did get it,” he said.

Monday’s events also include the 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Central Coast Muscle Cars & Classic Club Car Show and 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Family Fun Day at Christmas Hill Park. The park festivities will pause at 3 p.m., however, when attendees will be asked to participate in a moment of silence followed by the playing of “Taps.”

Ray Sanchez, adjutant for Gilroy’s American Legion Post No. 217, said the grand marshal’s comments were another example of how Schmidt’s selflessness made him an ideal candidate to lead festivities.

“He fits the job perfectly. That’s the image he projects. He’s a perfect chaplain,” Sanchez said.

“He’s one of the quiet guys that gets the job done. He never looks for compliments.”

Sanchez said Schmidt was a loyal and punctual veteran who was often tasked with presenting American flags to families of fallen soldiers. He also called Schmidt’s selection as parade grand marshal “slow in coming.”

“I was happy he was chosen. This was special for him to get this,” his wife, Rosemary, said. “He does a lot of things behind the scenes. He just likes to serve.”

Schmidt was born in Chicago and grew up near Minot, S.D., where his father was “too young for World War I and too old for World War II,” but instilled in him a love of history, which later grew into an appreciation of all things military, he said.

Schmidt joined the Navy in 1952 because jobs in his hometown of 270 people were almost impossible to find. Following radar school, Schmidt trained U.S. Marines in Puerto Rico headed for duty in the Korean War. Schmidt never faced combat himself, but was part of a naval patrol in Korea following the war’s end in 1953.

He was honorably discharged in 1956 and he moved to Santa Rosa, where his parents had relocated. He earned a business degree from California State University, Chico, where he met Rosemary. They married in 1958 and have three children, 11 grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

Schmidt admits he’s a man of few words. In fact, the speech he will give at Monday’s remembrance ceremony will be lifted straight from the American Legion Officer’s Guide. But those closest to him said they know his presence more than his words will show his appreciation for the nation’s military personnel.

“They’ve kept us on the straight and narrow,” Schmidt said. “I’ve done everything I can for the vets.”

Monday’s Memorial day events

– 9 a.m.: Remembrance ceremony, St. Mary’s Cemetery

– 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.: Central Coast Muscle Cars & Classic Club Car Show begins at Christmas Hill Park

– 11 a.m.: Parade begins at train station parking lot on Monterey Road, heads south then proceeds west on 10th Street toward Gilroy High School

– 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.: Family Fun Day begins at Christmas Hill Park

– 3 p.m.: Moment of silence following by playing of “Taps”

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