By Joseph Hamrick
The Commerce Journal
Robert Smith was watching a movie with his wife, Madeline, when they got the news that Pearl Harbor had been attacked.
“We were in Philadelphia, New York, watching a picture when we found out,” he said. “We thought it was a joke, you know. So we walked outside and sure enough, we had been hit.”
He joined the Navy in Albany, New York, the next day, where he saw many of the soldiers who had been hit during the attack.
“I’ve never seen so much mess in my life,” he said.
He was in the Navy for a few days, but was discharged because of his bowed legs.
“They told me they didn’t want me because of my legs,” Smith said. “They didn’t want me falling off the boat on night patrol and having the enemy sneak up on them because of me. So I told them I’d join up with the Army, and I did.”
Smith joined the Army shortly after, and shipped off on the Queen Elizabeth headed toward Glasgow, Scotland. He drove supply trucks for General George S. Patton. His travels with him would take him through Belgium, France and by the end of the war, to Cologne, Germany.
“When we got into London, we stayed on a golf course,” he said. “We weren’t able to sleep well because we were worried about getting hit by the bombs. The place across from us was always getting bombed, but no one was in there. Hitler was dumb. He kept bombing the wrong places.”
Smith spent most of his three years and four months in the service driving supply trucks for Patton in Marcei and Verdun, France.
“There was a sweet cherry tree on the routes,” he said. “I’d take my helmet off and go pick the cherries and fill it up and get back into the truck with my dog Skippie that I found. I wish I took that dog back with me.”
Although he was not on the front lines, he was still in danger.
“We were more worried about the French soldiers killing us than the Germans,” he said. “We would drive by and see our supply trucks that had been ransacked by the French with our soldiers lying dead on the ground.”
The supply lines that he drove had a 35 mph speed limit. He said they complained one day to Patton that they kept getting speeding tickets because they were driving too fast. “We’re fighting a war soldiers, not the speed limit. Keep driving,” Patton told them.
One day a colonel wanted to see how fast they were driving and how long it took them to get the supplies up to the front lines. So he rode along with Smith to see for himself.
“He told me to drive how I normally drive, and then drive the speed limit,” he said. “So I was driving how I normally drove and he asked me ‘What if a Frenchman came out in front of you?’ ‘Then we’d have a dead Frenchman’ I told him.”
Things had gotten so bad that he was almost courtmarshalled for his speeding.
“I was driving one day and just sped right by the MP and so he got in his car and caught up with me,” Smith said. “‘Did you see me?’ he asked. ‘Yes.’ ‘You’re gonna be courtmarshalled for this, son.’ I asked him if that meant that I could go back to N.Y. He told me no. So I wasn’t courtmarshalled. Because of that they raised the speed limit up to 45 for us.”
Smith has a picture in his album of him with German prisoners who would load the trucks for the supply runners.
“They were good guys,” he said. “They didn’t want to have to fight. Hitler made them.”
Smith came home after the war to his hometown of Clayton, N.Y., to his wife of four years. He had married her before the war, but did not want to have kids because he thought his chances were 50-50 of coming back alive. He kept in touch with the men he served with until they all passed. Smith still likes to wear his Eisenhower Jacket every now and then.
“Most of my friends were too fat to put on their jackets after a while, I’m not,” he said. “I lost all my friends from the war now, though. They’re gone.”
He lived with his wife of 70 years for six decades in New York during the summer, and Florida in the winter. He kept his memories from the war.
“It was like hell,” he said. “It was bad. Each day was about a month long because you were always thinking you wouldn’t see tomorrow.”
Smith now lives in Ladonia, where he and his wife have lived for the past 8 years.
“Kids these days love to watch all these violent and killing TV shows,” he said. “I saw enough killing in the war. I don’t want to see any more.”