“They were close to starvation and in imminent danger of being wiped out, unless help arrived.”
So goes an account of Lagoon Green: a secret air operation in the waning months of World War II, 1945.
British soldiers and Italian resistance fighters were stuck in a deep, snowy ravine in the Italian alps, pinned down and starving — in desperate need of food and supplies.
That help would come, thanks to an elite air team — and thanks to 1st Lieutenant Bombardier/Navigator Eddie Schmidt.
“We got food to them and got them going again,” Schmidt recalls.
Schmidt was a North Dakota boy through and through. He graduated from Hazelton High School in 1942, and enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps the next year.
Before long, he was airborne. “We’d be looking at each other down the gun sights.”
After nine bombing missions, he was brought into the fold of the Office of Strategic Services, which would later become the CIA. From then on, instead of bombings, Eddie and his crew were dropping spies and supplies behind enemy lines.
“We tried to surprise the enemy. Always keep them guessing,” he says.
His record is flush with jaw-dropping stories: close calls, spies sabotaging German hydrogen bomb facilities, and death-defying flights.
One such scene of Schmidt’s B-24 buzzing just over a Yugoslavian girl was put on canvas by his daughter, Nancy Schnabel.
“He said their eyes met, and he says, ‘I hope she forgives us,'” Schnabel says.
Fifty air missions later, the war was won, and Eddie returned to Hazelton.
He bought a plot of land and became a farmer and rancher, and raised nine adoring kids.
“He said, ‘We were just boys, fighting a man’s world war.’ Those boys grew up very fast,” Schnabel says of her dad. “I think that’s maybe why he is so humble and kind.”
Eddie’s life is quieter now — his missions more personal. “I’m 95 now. Next object I’ve gotta work for is try to make it to 100.”
But the freedom we enjoy today is thanks in part to Eddie Schmidt and his victories in the skies of World War II.
Schmidt spent 34 months in the U.S. Army Air Forces. Most of his missions took place in Italy.