Neighbor: Posting the flag with pride

Published 12:00 am Friday, November 10, 2000

Features Editor

"When you get 87 years old, you start to give out of air,"

William Smith might not be able to be as active as he once was, but there is one thing for sure, age has not deflated his patriotic spirit.

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For almost 40 years, the Brundidge Lions Club has been "putting out" the American flag on patriot holidays. As a charter member of the Lions Club, Smith has considered the flag project a privilege and and honor and he places each flag with pride – pride in his country and pride in his fellow man.

"I can’t do like I used to," Smith said about posting the flags. "I give out of breath too quick but I still want to do what I can to honor my country. Helping put out the flags is the best way I know how. The flags are a reminder of what a great country our nation is and of the sacrifices that have been made for our freedom. We must never forget that. It was an honor for me to serve my country and it’s an honor for me to put out the flags – even if I can only put out a few. I don’t ever see a flag that I don’t think about what it means to me."

For William Smith, patriotism runs deep.

He remembers vividly the day that he heard the call to duty for his country. The call didn’t come from Uncle Sam. It came across the radio waves.

"It was Sunday, Dec. 7, 1941," Smith said. "We were having a homecoming – a family reunion was more like it – in Banks at my mother and father’s house. A neighbor, Rastus Furgerson, came pounding on the door hollering the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor. My father ran and turned on the radio to see what we could find out. What we heard upset everybody there. The Japanese had bombed and killed our boys in a sneak attack. That day changed our lives."

That day tugged at Smith’s heart. He felt a duty to help defend his country but he was married and nearing 30 years of age. The younger men were getting the greetings from Uncle Sam. Smith wasn’t among them.

Smith watched as his younger friends went off to war. When his wife’s brother, who was married and had a child, was called. Smith decided he was not going to stay home and let those other men fight for him.

"I thought I was as good a fighter as they were," he said. "I had to do something."

He was very passionate about his desire to defend freedom and his wife Ester understood.

"She told me to do what I had to do and she would support me," Smith said.

Smith tried to enlist in the army but was turned down because he was color blind. He was dejected but remained determined.

"I heard about

the Navy Seabees," he said. "The Seabees were a construction battalion and I thought I might be able to get in it."

Smith was accepted and assigned to the 11th Special.

"Basically, we were stevedores," he said. "We loaded and unloaded ships. But the 11th Special also "carried Marines in."

The 11th Special was also known as the "Can-Do Boys" because there weren’t many things they couldn’t do. One of those things was go into battle once their other duties were completed.

"We carried in supplies and built camps and dug foxholes and got in them," Smith said. "We were in on invasions in the Pacific Islands as we moved the Marines from one island to another."

It was on one of those islands in the Pacific that Smith experienced the real horrors of war.

"We were handed four packs of K-rations, two canteens and told to ‘Go in and

get ’em,’" Smith said. "We went in and we got up but we lost about 12,000 men doing it. The 11th Special went in behind the Marines. We were the mop-up crew. Every time the Marines pushed on, we went right behind them."

War does strange things to men. Some ordinary men become heroes. Some brave men become cowards.

"We were in a foxhole one night and bombs were dropping all around us and gunfire was spraying around us like a Christmas sparkler," Smith said. "We were all afraid. Any man who tells you he has been to war and was not afraid is telling a lie. It’s true. War is hell. We were all scared. It was the toughest night of my life."

Nearby a bomb exploded, setting the sandbags around a foxhole on fire.

"The sandbags fell in the foxhole on the men and set them on fire," Smith said. "They were screaming for help and I started to move out. My foxhole buddy wouldn’t budge. He was frozen in fear."

Smith got help from soldiers in another foxhole and they pulled the two men from the burning hole.

"We were screaming for help and there was a doctor in one of the foxholes but he wouldn’t come out," Smith said. "Some corpsmen came and helped us and the men’s lives were saved."

A short time later, Smith’s foxhole buddy went berserk.

"He crawled out of the foxhole and was standing out there in all the gunfire, screaming to the top of his lungs," Smith said. "I crawled out and pulled him back in. I had to report him and the next day he and the doctor were taken off the island."

Smith said some men break during war and some find the strength they need to survive.

"War is terrible," he said. "You can’t explain fear to anyone else and you can’t fault a man for giving in to it. But those who have been to war know fear and they also know that nobody should ever have to experience war. I guess, knowing what I know, I can’t let a Veterans’ Day pass without remembering the many brave men I saw lose their lives on the battlefield and those who served with such pride. I also remember those who broke under the pressures of war. But we were all there to serve. Each one of us did the best. We need to remember them all on this Veterans’ Day. God bless America."