World War II veteran, 87, is honored for 20 years on job in second career

Posted Friday, Jan. 25, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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NORTH RICHLAND HILLS -- At 87, Tom Schmidt isn't one of those seniors content to putter around the house.

For 20 years, he has worked full-time at Home Depot in North Richland Hills.

On Friday, he was honored at a surprise party that originally looked like it might be a farewell party. But after thinking it over, Schmidt decided he isn't ready to retire just yet.

"I won't sit in front of the TV set," Schmidt said. "I'm not going to watch that thing and waste away. I feel like I still do something here."

That will be a relief to some of his customers.

The late golfing legend Byron Nelson used to drive to the North Richland Hills store to get help with projects around the house. Store manager Ben Gayton said many current patrons feel the same way, wanting to deal only with Schmidt, who has been with the store at Rufe Snow Drive and Northeast Loop 820 since it opened.

"I'll ask customers if I can help them, and they'll say 'Where's Tom?,'" Gayton said.

Before Home Depot, Schmidt had an entirely different career: He worked more than 40 years for American Airlines. His starting pay was 75 cents an hour, he recalled, and he worked his way up to operations manager.

A World War II veteran, he was onboard the aircraft carrier USS Ticonderoga on Jan. 21, 1945, when it was struck by two Japanese kamikaze pilots.

"All of the sudden -- bang -- we were hit," Schmidt said. "We thought it was a torpedo, but it was a kamikaze. He came down the aft, went through the flight deck and into the hangar deck."

A second kamikaze struck the bridge of the carrier, but it stayed afloat.

Schmidt isn't shy about sharing old war stories. His daughter, Jaclyn Harlos, credits that social interaction with keeping him mentally sharp and happy.

"He's a people person," she said. "There was a time after he retired from American where he didn't work and his personality changed. When he went back to work, he went right back to the way he was.

"He needs to be around people, doing things. I think that's why we're still lucky enough to have him around."

Bill Hanna, 817-390-7698

Twitter: @fwhanna

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