Peter Carl Schmitt, 1923-2017

Peter Schmitt as a technical sergeant in the famed 10th Mountain Division of the U. S. Army (the “ski troops”), which saw action at the front lines in Italy in the winter of 1944-45.

Peter C. Schmitt died on Saturday, June 10, 2017 after a brief illness.  He was born on March 19, 1923 in Norwalk, Connecticut, the fourth son of Carl and Gertrude Schmitt.  He was raised in Silvermine, Connecticut, and graduated from New Canaan High School, where he met the love of his life, the former Jane Hunt.  Upon graduation in 1943, Mr. Schmitt enlisted in the U. S. Army and served in Italy with the famous Tenth Mountain Division Ski Troops.  He participated in the battle of Riva Ridge and was awarded the Bronze Star.

Upon discharge from the army, he married his high school sweetheart and settled in Silvermine, raising their six children and pursuing a career as a commercial artist in the advertising industry in New York City.  After his retirement he relocated to Bedford, New Hampshire.  He and his wife later returned to Connecticut in November of last year.

His funeral mass will be celebrated at the Basilica of St, John the Evangelist in Stamford, Connecticut on June 15.  He is survived by Jane, his wife of seventy-one years, and their three sons and two daughters, as well as his sister, four of his brothers, and numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren.  Mr. Schmitt is preceded in death by his daughter Carolyn Jane “Karen” Schmitt, and brothers Austin, Michael, David, and John Schmitt.

Among David Schmitt’s many stories and recollections of his growing up is the following portrait of his brother Peter.

Peter Schmitt at the age of 3½.

Peter’s temperament is a lot like Dad’s.  If there was ever a person true to the character of St. Peter’s, my brother Peter is the one.  Just like St. Peter in the gospel, he is a leader.  He is outspoken, to the point.  He is spontaneous; he is intuitive; he’s extroverted.  Black and white.  Truth is charity and there’s no such thing as unnecessary charity!

Peter at an early age wanted to play the violin.  The only hitch was he had to learn and unfortunately that was at the expense of all the rest of us.  Dad remedied the situation by having him practice at the other end of the acre of land we owned.  There was an old shack there and I remember after school Pete was free to go to it by himself.

Peter (far left) and his brothers David, Jacob, John, and Carl, Jr. about 1932.

Peter was also a fast talker. I remember once when our friend Harry was visiting, Peter sent me to the house to get a quarter he had in his desk.  We were all going to go to Guthrie’s market for candy. While I was getting the quarter, Peter and Harry took off on their bicycles and when I came out I was shocked to find out they’d left without me, and I was a little hurt too!  When they got back an hour later, I complained, and Peter’s reply was, “Well at least we didn’t take off in front of you.  We were decent enough to send you in the house for the quarter so you wouldn’t see us.”  From then on in life I knew what I was dealt, or up against.

My aunt Martita once took me aside and said to me, “David, if you wouldn’t cry when Peter bully’s you, he wouldn’t enjoy it so much and he would leave you alone.” That evening I did better than that. When he started in on me, I punched him on the nose, knocked him down and beat him up.  It’s amazing what a word from a grown up will do for a little courage when one is down or depressed!

He never challenged me again; in fact he’s always respected me since and I respect him too!   I think when I was about six he taught me that lesson.

Peter (left) and his brother David about 1924.

Another time when we were in Rome, Chris (who was about eight) went down in the driveway to play with the boy who lived below us.  The boy, being the only son of a military man, was quite spoiled and got everything he wanted.  He got mad at Chris.  Their maid heard him under the kitchen window so she thought she’d help him by throwing a glass of cold water on Chris.  Chris came upstairs crying, his feelings more outraged than anything else.  The big kids, Peter and Mike, came to his defense.  They told him to go back down and yell up at the maid, which he did.  Sure enough, she moved into position above him with another glass of cold water.  When she did, she got a whole dish pan full over her head.  This time no one came to pound on the door.  In fact, we all celebrated at an easy victory.

Wisdom on Wednesdays—The triumph of comfort

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A Christening Party at Chartres, oil on canvas, 1928, 45 x 54 in.
Inspired by Schmitt’s stay in Chartres 1926-27, this painting was first exhibited at the twenty-seventh Carnegie International exhibition, October—December 1928.  A reviewer called it a “golden gaiety,” “one of those pictures which make you long to be in the place depicted.”

“The breakdown here in America is not due to a negative evil like sin, but to avoidance alike of all negative and positive things like the virtues and vices in the hope that, by postponing both heaven and hell long enough, a Utopia of science may be discovered.  It is thought that if the good can be held off long enough, comfort will triumph.”
—from the essay “Room (with Bath) at the Inn” (October 5, 1941)

Wisdom on Wednesdays—“Is there anything more real than poverty with a family?”

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Shack where Schmitt stayed on his property in Silvermine before his marriage.
Pastel on paper, 14 x 11 in.

“Critics comfortably off and cosmopolite tell me that it is fatal for me to live alone in the woods and paint, that I must not separate myself from humanity, reality. . . . Humanity?  Is there anything more human than ones own children?  Reality?  Is there anything more real than poverty with a family? (except death, which is also tasted each day)?”  (1931)

Wisdom on Wednesdays—The only power in the world

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Noli me tangere (Christ appearing to Mary Magdalene after the Resurrection), 1920, woodblock print, 8¾ x 5 in.

“The only power in the world—the basic creative force—is Charity: the transcendent existence of the Father made immanent and available to man through Christ, in his birth as man, and perpetuated by the Holy Spirit.”  (1964)