Last week we left off as William “Bill” Smith of Clarksburg had just been injured.
Asked to take a message, he left his big gun behind so as to run faster and carried only his small gun. He was hit with shrapnel and found it to be very hot. Ordinarily he would shoot his small gun to let the Americans know his location but his gun had also been hit. They’d been taught in case of injury to take pills and put a powder on injuries. “I took the pills and tried to dust powder on my back. When they finally found me, they took me to an old farm house.”
The medics found him and first got him to the side of a road, then they carried him to the old farm house. He was told that he hadn’t put the powder on his back wounds very well but they removed a piece of shrapnel about the size of a little finger. He’d wake up and quickly pass out again, wake up and pass out. When he finally did wake up everything was white. “I thought I was in heaven because there was no color, everything in sight was white. It turned out that when I woke up I was on a medical train and going back to Naples. They took me to the 300th general hospital there so they could take care of me.”
His right lung was collapsed and his right shoulder blade and three ribs had been fractured. “It was all on my right side. For a 19-year-old kid that was something.” I’m pretty sure it would have been “something” for anyone at any age. (Fifty years after he was injured Bill had a lump on his shoulder. The doctor removed another large piece of shrapnel.)
After the men were able to travel they put them on a racetrack where many tents had been set up. “We stayed in these tents on the track. That was in May and we had to wait until sometime in July to get out of there. Then when we got back to the United States we got to go home for 30 days. It was my first time. Because of the war escalating I didn’t get to go home after basic training. Resting for those 30 days gave me a chance to get some strength back.”
After the 30 days were up his next stop was to Aberdeen, Md. proving grounds. “We tested all kinds of vehicles there,” he said. “There was one that I loved. It was very much like a jeep except that it had half tracks in the back instead of wheels. They called it a ‘weasel.’” It was loved by the troops because it could go where Jeeps couldn’t.
Bill’s next assignment was Fort Benjamin Harrison. “They loaded us up and brought us to the Fort to guard the prisoners. These weren’t the Italian and German prisoners that were also detained there, the ones we guarded were American soldiers. Most had done nothing worse than go AWOL, but there were some hardened criminals there too.”
“I worked 12 hours a day and then got weekends off. We had 1,500 prisoners and they didn’t give us much trouble until they rioted the last of May 1945. Some of them tried to escape and they set fires. It was pretty bad. One of the civilian guards and a firefighter were killed at that time. We took the leaders of that riot to Leavenworth, Kansas. Early that fall there was another escape attempt and they beat another civilian guard.”
Bill was discharged from Camp Atterbury and decided to stay in Indiana. Several years later he met Anne at Camp Woodsmoke and fell in love. That’s how Clarksburg became his home.
By the way, Bill’s nephew is Ken Chitester, author of the book “Aboard Air Force One/ 200,000 Miles with a White House Aide.“ Ken traveled 201,197 miles aboard Air Force One to 22 countries, 36 states and 137 cities with President Bill Clinton in 65 trips, 162 days and 225 flights during his two years at the White House. Politics aside, the book is fascinating.
I haven’t told you about Bill’s extraordinary collection of World War II memorabilia but will do so in a few weeks when I tour the Clarksburg Fire station with him. I saw Nazi items and military items I’d never seen before. There’s a chance you may get to see them, too. A pencil drawing of Bill when he was in Naples is outstanding. Surely the artist became famous. Well, we’ll see.
Next week – a local author.