D-Day: Three brothers, three fates in World War II
Photo: General Dwight Eisenhower in the center, and Thor Smith is on the right in a photo take June 5, 1944, one day before D-Day. Courtesy of Scott McMurren.
By SCOTT MCMURREN
Each year, I turn the volume down in my life just a bit as we approach June 6, D-Day.
This year, it will have been 75 years since the largest seaborne invasion in history took place. Thousands died—and countless others were indelibly changed by the experience.
Here’s a brief story of how my family was affected on this day: The A. M. Smith family of Reno, Nevada, and a tale of three sons on one fateful day.
Alfred “Long Tom” Smith and his wife, Ivan, had four children: three boys and a girl.
“Long Tom” was a miner in Nevada and eventually became state engineer. On D-Day, the couple’s three sons were already commissioned officers in the U.S. Army Air Corps.
Their eldest son, Dale Smith, graduated the U.S. Military Academy in the class of 1934. He was fascinated with airplanes. He was assigned to the Army Air Corps and by 1943, he was a bomb group leader with the 384th Bomb Group (8th AF).
Most of his combat missions were over Germany, but in early June, he led bombing missions over France in support of Operation Overlord.
As commander of the 384th, Dale was a decorated flyer, with 31 combat missions (Air Medal with four oak leaf clusters, the Distinguished Flying Cross with three clusters, and the Croix de Guerre with palm).
Dale went on to serve in leadership positions in Okinawa, as head of the 64th Air Divison and later as a strategic adviser to the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He retired as a major general in 1964, 20 years after D-Day.
The second son, Thor Smith, was my grandfather. He was a newspaperman in the William Randolph Hearst organization. At the bidding of his brother, he applied for and was granted a commission in the Army Air Corps.
Thor rose quickly through the ranks until he was a press officer for Gen. Eisenhower at SHAEF headquarters in England at the time of the invasion. Thor accompanied Eisenhower to Paris and later to Germany during the liberation of the concentration camps.
After leaving the military with the rank of colonel, Thor returned to the Hearst organization. He was assistant to the publisher at the San Francisco Call-Bulletin.
Gen. “Ike” Eisenhower was Thor’s hero. In fact, my mother tells the story of when Ike was invited over to their house for dinner. She and my grandmother worked all day on dinner. When the doorbell rang, she went to answer…then fainted. They put her to bed and she missed dinner.
While his two brothers were on the scene for the invasion, Drew Smith graduated with the rest of his class at U.S. Military Academy at West Point on D-Day, June 6, 1944. Ike’s son, David, was his classmate.
Drew was anxious to fly and soon was checked out to fly the B-29s in Guam. Tragically, as he took off on June 11, 1946, his plane developed engine trouble. The B-29, fully-loaded wtih fuel, crashed into the ocean, killing all aboard.
As D-Day was a pivotal day in Western Civilization, it also affected families like ours at a very basic level. Mine is just one story—and I am proud to share it.
Suzanne Downing had careers in business and journalism before serving as the Director of Faith and Community-based Initiatives for Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and returning to Alaska to serve as speechwriter for Gov. Sean Parnell. Born on the Oregon coast, she moved to Alaska in 1969.