‘Com­mis­sioned’ to tell their story 100 years later

Rappahannock News - - COMMENT - BY DANNY HITT

Ed­i­tor’s note: The First World War, or Great War, was fought from July 28, 1914 un­til Novem­ber 11, 1918, which be­came known as Ar­mistice Day (an agree­ment for peace). The fol­low­ing piece was sub­mit­ted by Danny Hitt, who with his wife Linda are busi­ness own­ers of the Lau­rel Mills Store.

Iam Danny Hitt and I live in the vil­lage of Lau­rel Mills. This place is very near to where sev­eral men left for the U.S. Army's Camp Lee on Oct. 31, 1917. One of the men was Frank Lewis Smith, who was my grand­fa­ther Charles A. Smith's brother.

Frank Smith was born near View­town in 1894. As a child, I was very in­ter­ested in his­tory and my grand­fa­ther told me that his brother Frank was killed the last day of World War l. Very cu­ri­ous, I ques­tioned my grand­fa­ther and grand­mother, Bertha Smith about the events sur­round­ing his death, but they had very lit­tle in­for­ma­tion. My grand­mother, who could be su­per­sti­tious, told me “I knew he would not make it home, be­cause he kept stop­ping and look­ing back.” Never look back, I guess.

I thought about him many times over the years and es­pe­cially as I got older. With the on­set of the in­ter­net, I found it was easy to find the most de­tailed his­tor­i­cal in­for­ma­tion. One day around 2007, I ac­ci­den­tally ran across some ma­te­rial con­cern­ing Frank Lewis Smith on the Library of Vir­ginia web­site. To my sur­prise, I found out that his death was men­tioned in a 1933 pub­li­ca­tion, a self-pub­lished book by Pri­vate 1st Class Rush Young ti­tled, “Over the Top with the 80th Divi­sion.” I also found out that Pvt. Young was in the 318th Reg­i­ment, Com­pany B, 4th Pla­toon of the 80th, same as my Great Un­cle Frank Smith! I found a rare copy of his book that gave me a day-to-day in­sight on what they went through from Camp Lee to the end.

From Pvt. Young’s book, I was able to sum­ma­rize what hap­pened. By the be­gin­ning of Novem­ber 1918, fight­ing had left the trenches and was tak­ing place in the open. The Ger­mans were in full re­treat in an ef­fort to re­turn to Ger­many. The 80th Divi­sion, with the 318th, was in pur­suit. On Nov. 4th, the Ger­man 3rd army were or­dered to re­treat in sec­tions that were en­gaged with the 80th Divi­sion. On Nov. 5th, the Ger­mans were cross­ing the Meuse river. At that time the 80th with Frank Smith's reg­i­ment were close to the Meuse that is south­west and near a vil­lage called Som­mau­the. While there was not heavy fight­ing that evening, Ger­man rear guard

ma­chine gun cov­er­age was caus­ing prob­lems. Pa­trols were sent out that night to as­cer­tain Ger­man po­si­tions con­cern­ing this ma­chine gun fire.

Frank Smith was sent on pa­trol with his pla­toon leader, Sergeant Cur­tis Hood. Sgt. Hood, who ac­cord­ing to records was orig­i­nally from Louisa County. Dur­ing that pa­trol Frank Smith was killed. Rush Young, in the afore­men­tioned book, stated the fol­low­ing about that night: “Late that evening, Sergeant Cur­tis Hood, com­mand­ing the 4th Pla­toon of Com­pany B, and Pri­vates Clin­ton Perkins and Frank Smith were killed, to­gether with sev­eral oth­ers. Sergeant Hood went ‘nuts’ be­fore he was killed. His nerves had com­pletely gone.”

While Frank Smith didn't get killed the last day of the war, he was killed the last day the 80th was on the front. The 80th divi­sion was re­lieved by the 77th divi­sion the next morn­ing. Just a few more hours and Frank would be on the way home!

I was a child in the 1950's and I re­mem­ber go­ing to a coun­try auc­tion with my grand­fa­ther. I heard him ask an el­derly man, “You were in the army with Frank, what hap­pened to him?” The man re­sponded that a shell had landed near Frank and shrap­nel hit him in the side of his body, crush­ing his ribs, and he died shortly af­ter­wards. Lis­ten­ing very closely, I also heard him say that Frank was a very brave sol­dier. Later in life, I spent some time in Eu­rope. On one of these trips, I went to Paris, rented a car and drove to Som­mau­the and the Meuse river. It was such a mov­ing ex­pe­ri­ence as I searched the maps and the records to pin­point where this event took place. That fall day was per­fectly clear and very peace­ful. I am sure a pro­found con­trast to the night of Nov. 5, 1918.

One hun­dred years later as I sit on the pews at For­est Grove Church, I can see Bar­bara Smith Cof­fey, Jan­ice Smith Cooke, and Peggy Smith Stringfel­low in at­ten­dance. Frank Smith was their great un­cle, too. These be­ing re­lated from Frank's other brother Rus­sell Smith. There was an­other Smith with Frank dur­ing the war. His name was Stock­ton Brown Smith (no re­la­tion). He spent most of his life near View­town. He was in same com­pany and pla­toon. He was wounded in the early days con­cern­ing the push to the Meuse. This would have been in Septem­ber 1918.

The For­est Grove pi­anist, Geral­dine Wood­ward, is great niece to Stock­ton Brown Smith. Ri­ley Utz also went to France with this group. He was in "A" pla­toon. In the 1950's to the early 1960's he ran the Lau­rel Mills store. I was also told that he suf­fered from in­juries con­cern­ing gas at­tacks. To­day my wife and I run the same store. I feel such a con­nec­tion to these peo­ple that have gone on be­fore us. Deal­ing in an­tiques and house­hold junk over the years and ever since get­ting in­ter­ested in this story, an abun­dance of ma­te­rial con­cern­ing the 80th Divi­sion has come into my pos­ses­sion: Rush Young's mess kit with his sig­na­ture and unit num­bers scratched on, an 80th divi­sion uni­form with hel­met, the day book from a Lit­tle Wash­ing­ton Ho­tel that has the sig­na­ture of Frank Smith just be­fore he leaves for France in 1917, and my grand­fa­ther's sig­na­ture in Jan­uary 1919 when he stayed there wait­ing for Frank's body to come in by hearse. I also have come across a lot of old pa­pers con­cern­ing the 80th. I even have the de­liv­ery sched­ule for the am­mu­ni­tion “drop off” to that sec­tor and that night!

It feels like I have been com­mis­sioned by this crew to tell their story.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.