D-Day: Three brothers, three fates in World War II

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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 | ALASKA TRAVELGRAM

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 80 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.

[Read Maj. Gen. Dale Smith’s biography here]

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.

Scott McMurren is author and publisher at AlaskaTravelGram.com.  This column originally appeared in Must Read Alaska on the 75th anniversary of D-Day, and has been edited to reflect the 80th anniversary.

Do you have a story about D-Day and your family? Share it in the comment section below.

14 COMMENTS

  1. Thanks so much for posting this, Suzanne. And – thanks, Scott, for sharing your family’s history with the rest of us. As we approach the 75th Anniversary of D-Day, it is important for all of us to remember that so many American families were united in the battle for freedom. Even though families across America were separated by continents and thousands of miles – we shared a common goal that needs to be shared and reinforced for future generations so that this history is not lost.

  2. Important to remember these heroes, especially at a time when we have another dictator in Putin invading and occupying another sovereign nation and starting a war in Europe. Its Hitler in Czechoslovakia all over again. Are we really going to be doomed to repeat history again and spit on the memory of these brave men? I hope not.

    • Excellent point, cman.
      Unfortunately, not enough Gen X and later people know, or even care, about WWI or WWII. It is ancient history to them.
      .
      Instead of reflecting back on days like June 6th, and December 7th, the younger generations are too busy caring about emotions.
      .
      And, today, the Google Doodle is not acknowledging D-Day in any way. Instead, it celebrates a lesbian rights activist who, from what I read on Wikipedia, has no actual connection to June 6th in any way. Even the most used search engine on the ‘net cannot put pride month away for a day to commemorate perhaps the most significant event in WWII.
      .
      So, hope all you want. History will repeat, there is likely to be a massive world wide war once again. Not because it could not be prevented, but because people are not celebrating the heroes that gave their time, limbs, and lives to stop the last one.

    • C-Man, the Obama CIA/Vickie ” State Dept” Nuland Color Revolution in Ukraine has little to do with Putin being another Hitler. I think it has much more to do with something else… but then that requires educating ones.

  3. Excellent post.
    Not enough people remember the sacrifices made by the Greatest Generation in the name of freedom.

  4. Thanks Scott, for sharing your family’s story…it was very interesting and will add much to our History of WWII. I have enjoyed reading of many historical stories(true) of WWII.

  5. My father-in-law, Bruce Aaron Roberts, was towing gliders into Normandy on D-Day. When he returned to base in England from one of his runs with a “too damaged to fly” plane, he was quickly seated in another plane as co-pilot to go again. On that run while releasing their glider, the tow plane was so shot up that his pilot ordered everyone to evacuate. Unfortunately, during the prior quick plane transfer back at base, Bruce had forgotten to bring his parachute along. So everyone else on the plane went to the back of the plane to jump out while Bruce proceeded to keep the plane flying because that was his only option. He was successful in getting the plane to stay in the air and was beginning to limp the plane back to England when the rest of the crew showed back up in the cockpit. As it turned out, none of them jumped because the plane was so close to the ground that they didn’t think their parachutes would open in time.
    Bruce’s marker is at the cemetery on Ft. Richardson and his ashes are spread in a couple of his favorite locations here in Alaska.
    Thank you to all who’ve served.

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