World War II veteran honored

Published 10:14 am Wednesday, February 10, 2016

At the heart of World War II, millions of young men were sent to fight overseas. Many of those were country boys who felt the need to serve their nation.

Among them was David L. Smith, an 18-year-old from Bogue Chitto turned private first class in the Army’s 179th, 45th Division. Smith spent 10 months in combat and suffered two major injuries.

To recognize his sacrifices, the French government honored Smith with France’s Legion of Honor medal during a ceremony in Montgomery, Alabama. He was among eight veterans to receive the award last month.

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Smith’s daughter Linda Smith said the award is given to people who fought in World War II and risked their lives on French soil.

Linda said her father enlisted two years into the war after graduating from high school. Smith went from Camp Shelby to Virginia, got on a boat and went to Italy and then was sent into the South of France.

“They broke up their unit because there were so many casualties,” Linda said. “They were dividing them up and just sending groups of them, a couple of men here and there, to try to fill camps of those that had been lost. He started at the South of France and went with the Army from the south, pushing the Germans back all the way through France.”

Smith was first shot in the neck.

“The doctors said that he was really lucky, but we’re Christians so we know God just took care of him,” Linda said. “If it would have been just a little bit different, it would have killed him. He was out of the fighting for three weeks, and then he went back in and spent the winter in a foxhole.”

Smith spent 85 days in a foxhole during the winter of 1944.

“They had to stop pushing the (German) army back because of the weather, and so they built foxholes,” Linda said. “There would be two in a foxhole. One would stay awake while the other slept, and they would watch for the enemy, and then the other ones would wake up. They would kind of shift back and forth. Every night they would bring them clean socks and clean food.”

“When the weather finally broke, they began to march again, and he was wounded a second time,” Linda said.

Smith’s second injury was caused by a piece of shrapnel that hit a tree and then hit his arm.

“He begged the doctor not to do that, not to take his arm off,” Linda said. “He was able to save his arm, but he had to stay in the hospital for like 14 months.”

After the war, Smith worked as a rural mail carrier for 30 years, Linda said. When he retired from that, he worked for LifeWay for 10 years, she said.

Smith turned 90 years old in June. He lives in Madison, still drives, volunteers at a hospital and teaches a Sunday school class at his church, Linda said.

Linda said her father was honored to receive such a prestigious award, but the most memorable part of the day was having all of the family in attendance.

“We now have four generations in our family, and all of the four generations were able to go see him,” Linda said. “We’ve got his daughters and then his grandchildren, and then he has two great-grandsons, and they were able to go see it. To have four generations witness it, it was pretty special for us.”

Linda said she believes that by growing up in Lincoln County her father learned values that carried him through the war and his life.

“He has deep roots in that area, and so I think the down-home character that my dad has came from his family and from his church and from living in Lincoln County,” Linda said. “He really wanted to serve. You know he was just an 18-year-old boy, but he enlisted, and he was ready to go serve and fight for his country. I think that’s the kind of character of that great generation that they were willing to serve and fight for our country. I think that’s really significant.”