Mr. Tom Smith
Tom was born in Kansas City and raised by a lady nearby. At the age of 18 Tom received his draft notice and soon found himself in his first battle in Leyte.
Surviving to the end of that battle he was sent to another battle called the Invasion of Okinawa. His company was told on the way there that most of them would not survive and this was proven to be a true statement. There were heavy casualties in both Marine and Army units. Tom’s infantry division of 260 men began the battle,with only 11 surviving, Tom being one of the survivors. On May 10 another battle took place at Conoco Hill and Tom remembers that by the time his company arrived there were rows and rows of dead Marines who were the first to enter the battle. Tom says the firing never stopped during day and night with Navy ships constantly firing from sea and land fire of shells and snipers always sounding off. It was a time of battle after battle, with firing never ending.
It was in this battle he was injured and taken to a field hospital before finally arriving at an Army hospital for foot surgery. The doctors told him they would never get all the lead out of him and would try a new medicine called Penicillin that might help him to heal. Although it eventually took one year for his foot and leg to heal, Tom was sent back into fire after only two months into treatment which proved to be a mistake toward his healing process.
He was soon transferred out of battle to Manila to serve his remaining time working for the supply corps as a gasoline tanker driver. Tom laughs when he remembers while driving the truck at night refueling tanks a general saw him without his cap on and turned him in for being out of uniform. This got him a three-day suspension that didn’t bother him at all. He still laughs at that because of all the death and destruction of war that a General would concern himself about a uniform cap. He also distinctly remembers how hot and humid the Philippines were for the soldiers leading to another type of misery. Tom saw men losing their minds and not knowing where they were and others committing suicide to escape what they had been through. He saw men who lost their limbs while his were saved, never making much sense to him at the time.
After the Philippines Liberation on July 4, Tom was put on a ship and sent home. He never spoke to anyone about those experiences until lately, never telling his family what he had seen or done. He said that the boys at the age of 18 had no training for combat, but were sent directly into combat as he was and he feels sorry for them all to this day. His closing statement was that he was lucky to have made it back home and calls it “destiny” that he did.
Tom’s military history may be viewed in the Veteran’s Hall in the Parks and Recreation Truman Memorial Building, 416 W. Maple.
– This is part of a weekly feature on local veterans submitted by Helen Matson, volunteer program director for the city of Independence