Greensburg Daily News, Greensburg, IN

Columns

June 18, 2013

WW II veteran recalls time in service

Greensburg — Last week William A. “Bill” Smith of Clarksburg let me hold his Purple Heart and his Bronze Star. He let me try on a WW II steel helmet liner and then the actual steel helmet. They were incredibly heavy. I felt the history behind those medals and helmets. Bill was in the 85th Division / 337 Infantry Regiment / I Company. The 337 Infantry Regiment was called the Custer Regiment after General George Custer who was killed in 1876 at Little Bighorn.

Bill, 88, is up early mornings to make coffee for the Clarksburg volunteer firemen. Profits from the coffee goes for flags to place on the graves of firemen. Bill was a volunteer firemen in his adopted town for years.

George Morgan, also of Clarksburg, said Bill is one of the town’s finest attributes. “He and Anne are both a delight to know. He came to Clarksburg from Pike Township in Indianapolis but he has dedicated the last 30 plus years to the service of Clarksburg.” His wife Anne Cooper Smith is a native of Clarksburg and was the Clarksburg Postmaster for many years.

George said that Bill is responsible for the enormous display of historic Clarksburg photos in the community room.“There were already some large composite photos of graduating classes from 1943 to 1967 that came from the high school,” said George, “but he has made a labor of love to collect more and more.” Mel Fox said Bill is a fascinating person to talk with and that I simply must see his World War II collection. She introduced Bill and his wife Anne to me.

Bill entered the service in June 1943 from his home state of Pennsylvania; He took basic training at Camp Croft in South Carolina, a WWII Army Infantry Replacement Center near Spartanburg. Without getting furlough, he was immediately sent to New Jersey to join the 85th Division. From there he was sent to Newport News to get on board his ship, which turned out to be a British ship.

On the ship for about nine days, he only remembers being very sick. At first it was the shots he had to take before going overseas and then seasickness kicked in. The British gave him some kind of crackers with raisins in them and some Pepsi on the last day. He finally held that down.

They landed in Casablanca, Morocco. Bill said he was aware of the movie “Casablanca” that had been released in 1942 staring Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman but was unaware of the historic meeting that had taken place there in January 1943 between Winston Churchill and President Franklin Roosevelt. It was the first time an American president left American soil during wartime.

Bill spent Christmas 1943 on board the ship and then they were loaded onto “cattle cars” to travel by railroad from Casablanca to the historic city of Oran, North Africa. Bill said the cattle cars were actually box cars with the emblem 40/8 stenciled on the sides meaning that it would carry 40 men or 8 horses.” It was miserable way to travel. It was primitive,” he said, “with straw in one end that was the bathroom.” The veterans organization 40/8 got its name from these cars.

At Oran, the men took the amphibious training needed to make the landings they would soon be making. They lived on the beach in tents. Once they had that training, they went to Naples. “We landed at Naples and went up to Minturno in southern Lazio, Italy. We put out a line and the Germans had their line and we had to stay there until we could go forward as planned sometime in May. On May 15, there was a big push to join two forces together. They made me an Italian runner. My company sent me to deliver a message by foot.

“To run faster, I left my heavy gun behind and took off. We had the low ground, the enemy the high ground- making me a pretty good target. I heard a loud noise behind me and soon realized that I’d been hit. Turned out I’d been hit with shrapnel. Shrapnel is hot. It burns. I thought I could hear American voices, but my small gun that I got to take with me got hit too so I couldn’t fire a shot to let Americans know my location.

“They’d been taught in case of injury to take pills and put 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.”

Next week – more about Bill’s service.

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