BURLINGTON A snapshot paused on the video screen at the front of the funeral home chapel. The picture showed a proud Karla Schiller holding her newborn son, Rhett, on a November day 26 years ago.
On Monday, as Karla Schiller stood at the back of the chapel in Burlington’s Schuette-Daniels Funeral Home, her son Rhett lay in a coffin, his hands folded gently over the metal-covered copy of the New Testament he carried with him into battle in Iraq.
Capt. Rhett Schiller celebrated his 26th birthday on Nov. 7, nine days before he died in combat near Badad Ruz, Iraq.
While family members greeted the long line of visitors who came to pay their respect Monday night, a family album scrolled on the screen showing pictures from Rhett Schiller’s life.
A chubby-faced infant sat in his mother’s lap.
A tow-headed youngster flashed a grin in the middle of a family portrait.
The pictures of Rhett, rarely without a smile, told a story of an all-American kid who graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, where he studied Chinese, and went on to become an Army officer and an Airborne ranger.
Maj. Greg Mace, an Army representative based in Milwaukee, has handled some of the local arrangements for the Schiller family. Mace said that family members have chosen not to conduct interviews as they grieve.
“The parents are really devastated. They’re absolutely crushed,” Mace said. “This was their baby.”
Schiller was born Nov. 7, 1980. He spent a number of years living overseas with his family. Schiller attended the International School of Amsterdam and later graduated from Shanghai American School in May 1999.
Upon graduating from West Point in 2003, Schiller became a commissioned second lieutenant of infantry. Schiller completed the Army’s Infantry Officer Basic Course, Basic Airborne Course and Ranger School at Fort Benning, Ga., in 2003 and was assigned to the 82nd Airborne.
Schiller deployed to Iraq in August with Troop C, 5th Squadron, 73rd Cavalry Regiment (Airborne Reconnaissance), 3rd Brigade Combat Team of the 82nd Airborne Division out of Fort Bragg, N.C. Schiller served as the unit’s executive officer.
Family, friends and acquaintances waited in line in the funeral home before offering condolences to Schiller’s family, including his three siblings, his parents and his fiancée. As they walked from where his family stood, they paused at Schiller’s casket and moved on, wiping away tears.
Some paused to look at the photos of the young man they knew. Some found it too difficult to watch and remember the young man who died at war.
In September 2005, Rhett W. Schiller’s brigade was assigned to New Orleans for relief efforts after Hurricane Katrina. He and his men had only seven hours to deploy _ far from the usual 18 hours.
“For a company executive officer or a troop executive officer to work with subordinate and lead officers to organize a deployment that quickly is extraordinary,” said Maj. Tom Earnhardt.
Schiller, 26, of Waterford, Wis., was killed Nov. 16 by small-arms fire in Balad Ruz. He was a 2003 graduate of West Point and was assigned to Fort Bragg. “Consistently caring for his soldiers and always leading through his own example, Rhett raised the entire spirits and motivation of all those that knew him,” said Lt. Col. Andrew Poppas.
After moving to Holland in 1994, the Schiller family moved to China, where Rhett Schiller took it upon himself not just to learn Chinese, but to become fluent in the language. He spent four hours every Saturday until he learned to read, write and speak Chinese.
“He continued to push himself until he succeeded,” said his father, William. He also is survived by his mother, Karla.
The Department of Defense announced today the death of a soldier who was supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Capt. Rhett W. Schiller, 26, of Wisconsin, died Nov. 16 in Balad Ruz, Iraq, of injuries suffered when his unit came in contact with enemy forces using small arms fire during combat operations. He was assigned to the 5th Squadron, 73rd Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, Fort Bragg, N.C.
Schiller was commissioned a second lieutenant of infantry upon graduation from the United States Military Academy at West Point in May 2003.
He was deployed to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina in September 2005. He was deployed with his unit to Iraq in August.