My old man would be 96 years old today. He died 30 years ago. I never really mourned his death because, frankly, I’ve always felt his presence. I can’t see him, but he is still around, just living in a different form. Usually on Memorial Day and D-Day, I re-post the same post about Pop and his 3 brothers who all fought for their country, but this year, I thought I would change the narrative a bit.
My old man would be 96 years old today. He died 30 years ago. I never really mourned his death because, frankly, I’ve always felt his presence. I can’t see him, but he is still around, just living in a different form. Usually on Memorial Day and D-Day, I repost the same post about Pop and his 3 brothers who all fought for their country, but this year, I thought I would change the narrative a bit.
Pop was a smart dude. Justice Powell once told someone I know that Dad had the keenest mind of anyone he knew. To this day, old timers tell me stories about his intellect. However, for every story I hear about how smart he was, I hear 100 about what a friggin fun loving, big personality character he was. 30 years after his death, I hear new stories I have never heard from folks. It usually starts off… “You are Marston Smith’s boy?” Then they just start laughing and chuckling, and I hear some new tale about some prank he played or some outrageous, uproarious line he dropped.
The picture on the left is how I remember him. Fun, loud, gregarious. He had the rare Churchillian quality of being able to drink lots of bourbon and still function at a very high level. I don’t think I would be caught dead in a monogrammed bathrobe, but Pop rocked the Hugh Heffner look.
He was a scrawny kid. At Woodberry, he never made a varsity team. At Virginia, he was the manager of the football team, he was not on the team. Then “the War” broke out. He wanted to fight. At first my grandparents would not consent. He fought them and joined the army. He wanted to fight. But the Army had other ideas. They tested him and although he had never had a physics course, he aced their test, and they sent him to the University of Kentucky for advanced physics classes. He wanted to fight. So after a semester, he went AWOL, so he would get kicked out of the program. ( after the War, he learned he was being groomed for the Manhatton Project). He was shipped to England and hit the beaches on D-Day, he fought in the hedgerows in Normandy. When he got to Paris, the Army made him an officer.
Fast forward a few months….. I have a letter my Dad wrote his sister, my Aunt Goobie. The dateline is Bastogne, December 24, 1944. Goobie had sent Pop a batch of cookies. Pop thanked her for the cookies, but said he had given them to the Belgian children who had nothing at Christmas time. Well, let me tell you, if the Germans were shooting at Big Rob here and it was – 4 degrees outside, I’m eating the damn cookies ! During the battle, Pop led his company of men in defense of Bastogne. Despite the frigid cold and lack of food, his line didn’t bend. He then marched into Germany and when Germany surrendered, he immediately volunteered for duty in the Pacific.
I cherish the letter to Aunt Goobie because it so aptly illustrates what I already knew about my old man’s heart and strength of character. But, I also cherish it because it is so representative of American ideals. We are strong, but we are kind and benevolent towards others. We are living during the best times in human history, because scrawny kids like my father picked up their rifles and fought for something bigger than themselves. Heartfelt thanks to all who have fought for our great country. Let’s never forget their sacrifice.