Tributes and salutes filled the streets and the skies over the July 4 holiday weekend in honor of the 32-year-old airman who died in a training accident at Shaw Air Force Base last week.
First Lt. David John Schmitz was killed June 30 when his F-16 crashed on base during a routine training exercise. Since then, red ribbons honoring the 77th Fighter Squadron pilot have been tied to mailboxes and street signs in his neighborhood, where he leaves behind his wife, Valerie, and their dog, Toby.
It was a lifelong dream of the Santa Barbara native to fly. According to his obituary, which can be read in full on page B3, Schmitz earned his private pilot's license at 17. He enrolled in Air Force ROTC at San Diego State University before enlisting in the Air Force. As a loadmaster and instructor on the C-17 cargo plane for several deployments, he helped deliver supplies to ground troops in Afghanistan and Iraq.
"If you knew David, you knew his infectious laugh, quick smile and perpetually positive attitude, as well as his drive, persistence and determination," his obituary reads.
He finished his undergraduate degree to earn a commission through Officer Training School, completing his undergraduate pilot training with high honors and multiple awards. Schmitz was selected to fly the F-16 and was assigned to Shaw, where the couple, who married in 2013, had recently moved at the beginning of the year.
On Saturday, as thousands stood on beaches up and down the South Carolina coast, the annual Salute From the Shore military aircraft flyover included two F-16s from the South Carolina Air National Guard, a C-17 from the 315th Airlift Wing at Joint Base Charleston and a civilian-owned and flown vintage aircraft, Swamp Fox P-51. Its pilot, RT Dickson, wore a 77th FS Gamblers patch.
"When most people think about making the ultimate sacrifice, they don't think about training or everyday life in the military. During World War II, 15,000 airmen and women were killed in training accidents alone. Those losses are no less significant than those lost in combat, and it's important that we remember those," Dickson said on Swamp Fox P-51's Facebook page.
With red ribbons and patches flying in neighborhoods and overhead, others have shown their support online.
The Fallen Wings Foundation created the Lt. David Schmitz Memorial Fund. The nonprofit helps support families of fallen airmen with immediate needs such as life insurance gaps and funeral costs. As of July 5, the fund had accumulated nearly $56,000.
An online fundraiser was created on Go Fund Me to support the Lt. David Schmitz Scholarship Foundation. The foundation's website says it was created with the support of Schmitz's widow and parents to "support young men and women who want to pursue a career in aviation but have encountered obstacles similar to ones Lt. Schmitz experienced on his journey to becoming a fighter pilot."
The fundraiser was created over the weekend. Within two days, it had reached over $11,000 and 91 donors.
Want to donate?
Lt David Schmitz Memorial - www.fallenwingsfoundation.org
Lt. David Schmitz Foundation - www.ltschmitzfoundation.org
More Articles to Read