Ohio man who witnessed Iwo Jima flag raising in WWII and became entrepreneur dies at 94

Joel Alan Schmidt, a World War II Marine and owner of six McDonalds restaurants before he retired, has passed away. He was 94. PROVIDED
Joel Alan Schmidt, a World War II Marine and owner of six McDonalds restaurants before he retired, has passed away. He was 94. PROVIDED

Joel Schmidt witnessed the planting of the American flag on the island of Iwo Jima after a fierce battle with the Japanese as a Marine in World War II.

But it was after he returned home that he planted his own flag, starting a family, operating six McDonald’s restaurants in Butler County and becoming a leader of Hamilton’s civic society.

Schmidt died Saturday at Fort Hamilton Hospital. He was 94.

He was born May 15, 1926 in Noblesville, Ind., to Jacob J. and Caroline (Heylmann) Schmidt and grew up in Cleveland, where he met Marilyn, his wife of 70 years. After graduating from Indiana University and while working for Shell Oil Co., he moved to Hamilton in 1953.

In 1969, their neighbors and friends, Chuck and Charlotte Posey offered the Schmidts a chance to join in a partnership of a new McDonalds restaurant on Northwest Washington Boulevard. The couple became McDonalds operators for the next 23 years, ultimately owning three in Hamilton, one on Oxford and two in Fairfield.

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As a Marine from 1944-45, Schmidt was on a landing craft taking supplies to shore when the flag was raised on Iwo Jima’s Mt. Suribachi. He could hear the cheers on the strategically important island in the Philippine Sea, between Japan and the Mariana Islands.

“He saw the flag go up, and heard the cheers, and that was obviously a big historic moment,” his son, George Schmidt of Hamilton, said. “It just made him proud to be an American, like always.”

George Schmidt said the Marines helped make his father the man and restaurant owner he became, teaching him discipline, routines “and it was very important, you had routines, you had manners,” and good customer service.

Since he retired, those six restaurants have turned into 15 that are operated by his grandchildren, showing the leadership he had with his family and the restaurants.

He had the philosophy, “you work hard, and play hard,” George Schmidt said. That play included with his five grandchildren and 15 great-grandkids. He also enjoyed happy hours at the Coach House restaurant, and golfing.

He was a past chairman of the Greater Hamilton Chamber of Commerce, Hamilton Economic Development Corp., Hamilton Community Foundation and the board of Fort Hamilton Hospital.

He also was president of many community organizations including The Boys and Girls Club, Junior Achievement, The Fitton Center, and Hamilton-Fairfield Arts Council. He was a member of the Presbyterian Church of Hamilton.

He also is survived by his wife, Marilyn (Orr) Schmidt; a daughter, Debbie (Pat) Pawling of Ross; son George (Rhonda) Schmidt; 5 grandchildren, Leslie Purdy, Valerie (Ryan) Haynes, Joel (Krista) Schmidt, Kyle (Tiffany) Pawling, Kara (Derrick) Tafur and 15 great-grandchildren.

Private services for the family already have been held. Burial will be in Rose Hill Burial Park. Memorial contributions can be made to the Ronald McDonald House of Greater Cincinnati, 341 Erkenbrecher Avenue, Cincinnati, OH 45229. Online condolences are available at www.weigelfuneralhome.com.

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