Posted: Wednesday, November 10, 2010 8:01 pm
By: By Lisa Smartt
William Butler Smith was going to war. It wasn’t by choice. But it wasn’t unwillingly either. In the spring of 1944, the 24-year-old man was inducted into the Army of the United States. He trained at Fort Bragg, N.C., and at Aberdeen Proving Grounds in Maryland. After reaching the rank of Buck Sergeant, he marched from bivouac to Pier 52 in New York City. Red Skelton accompanied the troops as they marched. It was clearly understood that many of the young soldiers would never again return to American soil. But they kept marching. It’s not that they were without fear. No. They were human. But they kept marching despite the fear. Duty bound, they boarded a ship headed for the shores of Belgium. Young men were getting ready to be involved in World War II. They could have never been fully prepared for what awaited them.
Published in The Messenger 11.10.10
William Butler Smith was a Tennessee country boy. Unlike some of his comrades, he was leaving a new family behind. A wife and three children were left to wait and wonder. The oldest child was three years old and the baby only six months old when he began his training. But he was confident that his wife, Loreta, would keep the home fires burning. While caring for three small children, she wrote to her soldier husband every day. “Baby Sylvia is walking now.” “David is trying to understand why Daddy can’t be at home.” “Nancy is growing prettier every day.” It was all news that William Butler cared deeply about. The letters would be read and re-read. Though he was able to write to his family, they never knew where he was located. His younger brother was also serving on the front lines of the war effort, but they never saw each other.
Almost two years after being inducted into the Army, William Butler Smith returned to New York City. The returning soldiers were regarded as heroes. If they went into an eating establishment, an ordinary citizen would often pay for their meal. But the 24-year-old country boy who had joined the Army was not the 26-year-old man who returned to New York City. No. Now he was a man who had known war. Killing. Fighting. Bloody conflict. He had been a scout and part of his duty had included demolition clean-up after the Battle of the Bulge. He had seen and experienced things he had never imagined. Like many World War II veterans, he came home, worked a job, loved his family ... and chose not to speak much about his time at war.
William Butler Smith’s story is not unusual. He fought in World War II. He chose not to talk about it. Last week when I was at the airport in San Antonio, I was moved to tears while a parade of World War II veterans came through the terminal on their way to the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C. We all stood to our feet and cheered. Many of the veterans wiped tears. On Veterans Day, we remind our children to be grateful for the service of all our military personnel. We remind them that many sacrificed their lives. And many are still in harm’s way today. William Butler Smith died a few years ago. But his memory lives on in the hearts of my boys, his great-grandchildren.
For more information about Lisa Smartt, visit her website lisasmartt.com.
Lisa Smartt, The Smartt View