Bill Schmitt was only 23 years old when he was enlisted as a soldier in World War II. Despite baring witness to the horrors of war, on his return to Adelaide in 1945 the ever positive Bill started his journey as an advocate for veteran’s health and a beloved supporter of The Repat Foundation (now The Repat Foundation – The Road Home) until he sadly passed away earlier this year at age 97.
In 1942 Bill was captured by Japanese soldiers in Java and forced to spend three-and-a-half years as a prisoner of war, something his daughter Sue says he rarely spoke about.
“Dad suffered war neuroses and his body nearly gave up on him with the horrendous conditions he was kept in,” Sue recounts.
“It’s so hard to understand having never experienced anything like that myself but he never complained. He just got on with his life and he forgave.”
Bill’s journey with The Repat Foundation – The Road Home began when he was first admitted to The Repatriation General Hospital in 1945 after returning from war weighing only 42 kilograms.
At the time, Bill was unaware this would be the beginning of a bond with The Repat Hospital’s medical staff and fellow veterans that would last his entire lifetime.
“Dad soon discovered The Repat was the place for him, and he was so loved by all,” Sue said.
In 2002, after collapsing unexpectedly, Bill was diagnosed with stomach cancer and refusing to be treated anywhere else was admitted to The Repat Hospital.
“Dad was insistent he receive treatment at The Repat Hospital – he felt so comfortable there, surrounded by people who understood him,” Sue said.
After a successful operation Bill went on to live 13 healthy years surrounded by his family and even travelled back to Japan with Sue, the country where it all began for him so many years ago.
“At the time I asked Dad whether being in Japan brought back bad memories, and he said these aren’t the people who did any harm to him, they were all dead and gone,” Sue said.
That was the forgiving and easy-going nature of a beloved father, grandfather and great-grandfather that was determined to live life to the fullest despite his war experiences.
“Dad always said that it was better to wear out then rust out – he always had a positive attitude.”
It was only last year, at 96 years old, that Bill gathered his family around to tell them he couldn’t live independently anymore and he wanted to return to The Repat.
Immediately admitted to Ward 2 of the hospital in April, a month later Bill moved to residential care at Vita where he spent the last year of his life, right next door to his beloved hospital.
“He was very happy there,” Sue said.
To this day Bill’s legacy and dedication to veteran’s health continues to live on through his daughter Sue who like her father continues to support medical research through The Repat Foundation – The Road Home.
“Dad and Mum were both actively involved in various trials and research conducted at The Repat throughout the years.
“Whilst devastated about the hospital closure, Dad wanted the amazing research and care for veterans to continue.”
A Member of the Order of Australia and a champion of veteran affairs, Bill’s dedication and passion for research in support of veterans and their families will continue to live on through The Repat Foundation – The Road Home.