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The following is a story about a special soldier who served in the 161st Infantry.  He made the supreme sacrifice and I am honored to be a part of keeping his memory alive.  Thanks for writing and sharing this story, Randy.

A Short Time in the Service
                   The Brief Life and Supreme Sacrifice of Pvt. George A. Smith
                                  Serial No. 36-486-831
                                                Randolph D. Brandt
                                                May 7, 2011
George Smith picked up his satchel, kissed his mother Annie goodbye, and left his home on Route No. 5 in Midland, Mich., at 7 a.m. Sept. 20, 1944, bound for Detroit. He passed his physical that afternoon and was sworn in to the U.S. Army the following day.
Pvt. Smith would spend the rest of his life in the Army - all 218 days of it.
He was killed in action, fighting against the Japanese in northern Luzon, the Philippines, on April 26, 1945, near the end of World War II.
As a result of heavy fighting and difficult mountain jungle conditions, it would take another two weeks to recover what was left of his body, so decomposed by that time that no precise cause of death was ever established, except that he was KIA.
George Smith eventually did make it back home – or at least his skeletal remains did – to be buried in Midland’s Old Calvary Cemetery, but that took more than three-and-a-half years.
Up to that time, George Smith’s niece – my wife, Bonnie J. (Smith) Hollis – had only scattered childhood recollections of her Uncle George: Pestering him one night while he was writing in his diary before he went into the Army; a foot-race in the yard that Uncle George organized for the kids and cousins while he was home briefly on leave after basic training, just before shipping out to the Southwest Pacific Area as an infantry replacement.
But the military funeral, the flag-draped coffin  - that was a different, more searing memory.  Bonnie was older by then, she was 9.  Her parents, Thomas J. Smith, George’s older brother, and his wife, Mildred, had told a younger Bonnie of Uncle George’s death when the notice first came from the War Department in late May 1945, and they all sat together on the couch crying.
Still, it was the long-delayed funeral in early 1949 that Bonnie remembered most vividly.  She recalled how the flag was taken off the coffin, folded carefully and given to her grandmother, Annie K. Smith.
“I appreciate my parents for not trying to protect us from that pain,” Bonnie recalled years later. “Some children were not so fortunate.”
The American flag figured prominently for the family for decades after that. A similarly folded flag was presented to Bonnie’s brother, Thomas Richard Smith, known as Dick or T.R., upon his retirement as a Navy chief, after serving 20 years aboard the aircraft carriers USS Enterprise, the Nimitz and the Carl Vinson.
Bonnie’s father Tom flew a flag in his yard every day of his life, in honor of his brother, George. We continue that tradition, in remembrance of them all.
Young George Smith was a standout in many respects. A member of the 1943 graduating class of Midland High School, he earned three letters in track-and-field events and set records for pole vaulting.  His name was inscribed on an awards plaque that hung at the school’s entrance.
He’d completed four years of machine shop while in high school, leading to his employment after graduation as an inspector at a Chrysler automobile plant in Detroit. Before that, he worked at the H&B service station and the Denison and Spencer gas station in Midland.
He was popular with the young ladies, confiding to his daily diary for 1944 that he enjoyed “a good time” on numerous occasions with several local girls during that summer’s run-up to his enlistment.
George also entered the ring, engaging in exhibition boxing matches in both Detroit and around Midland. Though he won more match-ups than he lost, he also paid a physical price for his fighting prowess. He suffered a broken nose and a hand injury, both of which affected his choices when he reached the inevitable conclusion that he’d enlist for the war rather than wait to be drafted.
His brother, Tom, suggested years later that George was conflicted, even tormented by the decision. Should he try for the Navy, or the Marines, or the elite Army airborne? George talked about it all the time.
Throughout the early months of 1944, George confessed both his hopes and his fears to his diary:
On March 7, he talked with a friend about the air corps. “I wonder what to enlist in?”
In a March 27 diary entry, he quotes William Ernest Henley’s “Invictus”: “I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul.”
“Perhaps some day, I’ll be an officer,” he wrote on March 29, 1944.  After all, he’d taken out books from the local library to study up on such diverse topics as physics, mathematics, even mating habits in the animal kingdom.
“If it weren’t for my eyes, I could be a pilot,” he recorded on May 12, presaging a visit to a Detroit optometrist and a new pair of glasses, which didn’t really help, so he threw them away.
 “I think I’ll try for the Marines,” he said that May, but he was rejected on June 12, 1944 because of his eyesight and his boxing injuries. He also failed the eye exam for the Naval Air Service. Still, he didn’t give up. “I’ll sure be glad to get into service,” he wrote in his diary June 27.
George’s desire to qualify for some special duty led him to two surgeons, who promised to cure his sinus problems from his broken nose and his broken hand. He underwent surgery for his sinus condition on April 12 and had his hand operated on August 22, just a month before he enlisted in the Army. He went to the movies a lot that summer, war pictures mostly, as if to steel his courage or at least satisfy an interest.
Ultimately, George Smith set his sights on airborne duty as a paratrooper, though the Army had other plans.  The unexpectedly high casualty rates from the Pacific War placed a premium on soldiers with “branch immaterial” basic training, as infantry replacements that were so regularly being ground up in battle in the islands. Thus, George Smith’s dreams of becoming a parachutist proved unrealistic.
Little information filtered back to the family about George’s death, so the actual circumstances remained a mystery for decades. George’s discussions with his brother about airborne training must have somehow colored Tom’s recollections, since Tom in later years seemed to think his brother had died in a costly parachute jump into northern Luzon, killed during his descent into the drop zone even before landing.
In reality, Pvt. Smith died as an infantry replacement, with both feet on the ground.
Brother Tom also came to see his brother’s death as almost predestined, his $10,000 GI life insurance policy somehow meant, through God’s will, to support his mother in her old age. That would be the equivalent of about $120,000 today.
George was the youngest of the Smith clan, born on July 19, 1926, while the family was barely eking out a living on a sheep ranch in Adams, N.D., where they’d moved earlier from Minnesota. His father, Joseph Smith, left the family soon after that, and Annie and the children relocated to Midland around 1927.  Two years later, The Great Depression hit hard. Oldest brother Tom, when he turned 16, hit the road, riding the rails for a time to spare the family the necessity of another mouth to feed.  Eventually, things got a little better, and the older children, Ben, Bessie, Mamie, and Tom, too, got jobs, married and established their own households.
Young George, though, stayed at home with his mother throughout his high school years, providing some support, working odd jobs around town and at the service stations.  After he graduated, any extra money from his job at the Detroit auto plant was sent home or invested in small amounts in war bonds.
As brother Tom later restructured events in his own mind, George always continued to provide for his mother, even in death.
“Yes, he was a sacrifice,” Tom wrote. “God gave my mother a good life just because George was sacrificed in 1945.”
Sometime in the early summer of 1944, George made a plan.  “Have only three more months in Detroit,” he wrote in his diary, counting down the days to when he would leave the Chrysler plant to join up. He began cashing in some of his War Bonds, to bide him over.
“I am determined to work hard in whatever branch of service I get in,” he wrote in an August 24 diary entry.
After picking up his last paycheck in Detroit, George Smith went home to Midland for a couple of weeks, spending a lot of his time sleeping in after nights out at such local spots as Bay City’s Top Hat, or the Blind Pig and the “Bucket of Blood.”
Old enough to fight and die for his country, but still not old enough to drink, he borrowed an older friend’s birth certificate for an ID at the bars.
There was some work to be done, too, including a little gardening and landscaping for Lapelle’s greenhouse, driving a sand truck and helping brother Tom put siding on his house on Pine River Road in Gordonville.
On Sept. 7, he played a while with Tom and Millie’s two children, Bonnie and her brother Dick, before trying to catch up on his diary, to no avail.  “Bonnie’s bothering me, “ he interjected, “but I like it.”
Though George spent many nights drinking and carousing with his friends and brothers – then sleeping if off well past noon – there also was some sense of order in what he was doing in these last few weeks before he went away to the Army.  He collected a couple photos of his niece Bonnie and nephew Dick. He sought out and found a picture of his long-gone father. In retrospect, pretty much anyone could see that he really was spending this last interim saying goodbye.
He did so, literally, on Sept. 18, recording in his diary, “Packing satchel, saying goodbye.”
Then it was on to the recruiting station in Detroit for his physical and his first day in the U.S. Army, spent on a train. “Went through to Chicago to Fort Sheridan,” he recorded.  “Got clothes and GI haircut. Listened to chaplain and Capt. Campbell, took a group picture. So far, the Army isn’t bad.”
Judging from his last few diary entries over the next couple of weeks, Pvt. George A. Smith seemed to genuinely like the Army.
On his first day at Fort Sheridan, just north of Chicago, he mopped the floors of a barracks for inspection, but also enjoyed a couple 8-cent beers at the Post Exchange.  Off duty, he enjoyed meanderings along the shore of Lake Michigan.  He stood fire-watch a couple nights, implying that he liked the conscientiousness that comes with duty.
Pvt. Smith spent only a week at Fort Sheridan before entraining again for Camp Fannin, Texas, just outside Tyler, for 12 weeks of basic training, a shortened course this late in the war, because so many replacements were needed so quickly.
“Having a swell time on the train,” he told his diary, as he traveled through Ohio, Missouri, and Arkansas, to Texas. He liked it there, too, after arriving at 6 a.m. on Sept. 30, 1944. “I like it here at the camp,” he told his diary. “The Army isn’t too bad here now.”
He moved into permanent barracks at Camp Fannin with his training battalion, took out some more war bonds to replace those he’d cashed in earlier, then went to the movies at the post theater – a film about airborne paratroopers, of course
Pvt. Smith spent his first few days practicing saluting, studying first aid and learning about fractures.  He even snagged a couple hours off to play softball and write a couple of letters home.  Two days later, though, he came face-to-face with the intense indoctrination of basic training.
“Have no time to do anything,” he wrote on Oct. 2.
 His daily diary entries ended there.
The drill at Camp Fannin was demanding, day and night, as recruits’ schedules were filled with classes, weapons training and night maneuvers. Pvt. Smith did well, qualifying as an expert rifleman with his M-1 Garand.
Despite the time-stealing rigors of his compressed training, Pvt. Smith made time to buy a tasseled silk cloth souvenir from the Post Exchange to send back to the family in Michigan. It’s emblazoned with the American flag, along with the legend, “O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave,” and the inscription, “Camp Fannin, Tyler, Tex.”
More than 200,000 young American men became Army infantry replacements by training at Camp Fannin between May 1943 and December 1945. No one knows for certain how many Camp Fannin soldiers died in the European Theater of Operations or in the Pacific, but applying standard casualty rates from World War II, some 6,000 probably were killed, perhaps twice that many wounded, some more than once.
The Infantry Replacement Center at Camp Fannin is long gone today, but it’s now home to the University of Texas Health Science Center, built appropriately on the site of what was once the Camp Fannin hospital.
Down the lawn a ways, close to U.S. Highway 271, there’s a memorial to the soldiers who trained there, highlighted by a statue of an infantryman, his rifle bayonet fixed, in an attack posture. It is dedicated to all the soldiers who trained there, but especially those who, like Pvt. George Smith, gave their lives in defense of their country during World War II.
The Camp Fannin Association, made up of a few surviving veterans and other history enthusiasts, also maintains an online “Wall of Honor,” a project dedicated to individually identifying Camp Fannin veterans who died in service to their country.
Pvt. George Smith is on that storied list.
His name also appears on the list of soldiers killed in action that was assembled by the National Archives & Records Administration in conjunction with the new World War II monument on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.
After completing his truncated basic training at Camp Fannin, reduced from the normal 17 weeks to just 12 weeks, Pvt. Smith was shipped off to Fort Ord, just north of Monterey, Calif., to await his troop ship’s departure from San Francisco.
In between, he was eligible for 10 days’ leave, which he used to return to his home in Midland for a last leave-taking from his family (and to organize that final footrace in the front yard for niece Bonnie, her cousin, Bessie’s daughter Nancy Long, and other children).
After that, Pvt. Smith was on his way to the Pacific War, assigned as a replacement in Company F, 161st Infantry Regiment, recently landed at Lingayen Gulf in the Philippines with the 25th Infantry Division, known as the Tropic Lightning Division.
The 161st landed in the Philippines on Jan. 11, 1945. It was some time after the landings that Pvt. Smith joined the regiment, fighting its way generally east through the barrios, or villages, of Binalonan, San Manual and San Isidro that dotted the Luzon plain, meeting stiff and determined resistance from the Japanese occupiers.
It would get much, much worse, as they fought their way into the Caraballo mountains, where Japanese forces were deeply dug in among the caves and razor-backed ridges in the jungle highlands. Many veterans of the campaign considered it some of the worst terrain they’d encountered in the entire war, comparable only to the terrible fighting Allied troops experienced in the mountains of Italy while taking Monte Cassino.
The U.S. War Department never developed a satisfactory replacement personnel system throughout World War II, and it came under withering criticism from families and in Congress over the Army’s tendency to siphon off the best-trained, most capable soldiers for special assignment or rear-echelon duties, while sending the least-trained, greenest soldiers directly to the front lines.
The problem became especially acute late in the war, as casualties mounted in the desperate fighting that accompanied direct U.S. invasions of enemy-held territory in both theaters of operation.
 The officer who most likely processed Pvt. Smith into the 161st Regiment was sharply critical of a replacement system that sent relatively inexperienced and under-trained soldiers like George Smith directly to the already under-strength fighting units at the tip of the spear.
Writing in his memoir, “Across the Dark Islands,” published posthumously nearly 60 years after the war, Brig. Gen. Floyd W. Radike (Ret.), called the replacement system, “a disaster.”
            Radike was an officer with the 161st during World War II, who took on administrative duties in the CP after he’d been wounded by shrapnel from an artillery burst. He complained that often, only the relatively untrained, or the ill fit, or soldiers with previous injuries or disabilities wound up as replacements in front line units.
Even conscientious expert riflemen like Pvt. Smith didn’t have the depth of training and experience needed to cope with being thrown into the maelstrom so soon after a mere three months of basic training, none of it in theater.
One of the regiment’s brigade commanders was even more blunt: “The new men aren’t in good shape and haven’t been trained for combat,” Radike quoted him as saying. “Every day, I find men being killed and wounded because they didn’t have the foggiest idea how to survive on the battlefield.”
Little wonder casualty rates among new replacements were extremely high, with little time to integrate into the protective unit cohesion that‘s often key to a combat soldier’s survival. Sometimes replacements were killed off so quickly, other veteran members of their companies didn’t even have the time or inclination to learn their names.
Little is known of Pvt. Smith’s first few days or weeks in combat (which also were, of course, his last). Most personnel records for World War II soldiers were destroyed in a disastrous fire at the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis in 1973.
But for any soldier who was KIA, or Killed in Action, a separate file - called an Individual Deceased Personnel File (referred to as a ‘293’ file) – also was kept to further document the death and carefully keep track of the body, if it was recovered.
George Smith’s 293 file still exists in Army archives, and it lays out - as nearly as can be reconstructed some 66 years later - where and when he was killed during some of the most difficult and desperate fighting of the Pacific War.
In late February and early March of 1945, two U.S. divisions were ordered to move up the-then Highway 5 in Luzon, from San Jose toward Santa Fe, in what became known as The Battle of Balete Pass, atop Sierra Madre Mountain, threshold to the vital Cagayan Valley.
Pvt. Smith’s outfit, the 161st Infantry, led the grinding, grueling attack toward Balete Pass, painstakingly moving up through the craggy ridges along the west side of Highway 5, paying dearly for each yard, but finally penetrating the well-prepared defenses of Gen. Tomoyuki Yamashita’s mountain stronghold.
The 27th Infantry Regiment spearheaded a companion drive on the eastern side of the highway.
Throughout the month of March, they crept on through such difficult objectives as Norton Ridge and Norton’s Nob, killing or driving off dug-in Japanese defenders, until reaching the east slope of Crump’s Hill by April 21. Here, fighting that week was fierce, confused and particularly deadly, for both attackers and defenders. Many of the fortified positions were taken by way of flamethrowers, flammable phosphorus grenades and the individual bravery of riflemen. They were aided by barrages from the 105mm and 155mm howitzers, and mortars, also firing white phosphorus rounds.
In the vanguard of these repeated assaults, Pvt. George A. Smith of Midland, Mich., fell in battle, at or near the barrio Kapintalan, on April 26, 1945, just a mile or so from the primary objective, Balete Pass.
American forces then fought their way across the Kembu Plateau, finally taking the narrow defile of Balete Pass May 13, 1945, but at the cost of 2,385 men killed from the 25thDivision, including 170 dead from Pvt. Smith’s outfit, the 161st Regiment.  The Americans killed an estimated 7,500 enemy soldiers in the process.
All told, some 17,000 American, Filipino and Japanese soldiers died in the Luzon mountain campaign, one of the final great battles fought in the last stages of World War II.
The Japanese dead were either buried en masse in common pits or sealed for eternity in their caves with dynamite.
American dead, though, were collected up, as well as possible, and hand-carried by Filipino litter bearers down from the mountains, ultimately taken to the United States Armed Forces Cemetery at Santa Barbara on the plain near Lingayen Gulf, where the first American troops had come ashore on Jan. 9, 1945.
Among the American dead was Brig. Gen. James Dalton II, CO of the 161st and assistant commander of the 25th Infantry Division, killed by a Japanese sniper right at Balete Pass on May 16, 1945, just a few days after they found the body of Pvt. Smith a mile or so south of the pass.
There were thousands, maybe tens of thousands of privates killed between 1941 and 1945, but only 11 general officers were killed in action during the entire Second World War. When privates and generals die in the same battle, you know it must have been pretty bad.
Gen. Dalton was accorded a funeral procession to the Santa Barbara Cemetery.
Pvt. Smith was wrapped in a shelter half and buried there, too, along with his dog tags for later identification.
There were no other personal effects found with Pvt. Smith’s body, unusual but not necessarily unexpected, given the circumstances of his death and the two weeks the body remained in no-man’s land. Presumably, any personal effects – wallet, letters, pictures, wristwatch - were either destroyed by the manner of his death, didn’t survive two weeks in the jungle heat, or, most likely, were looted by Japanese soldiers still holding fast in the vicinity of Crump’s Hill and Kapitanlan.
Several years after the war, the dead in Santa Barbara Cemetery were disinterred for transfer to the main American Military Cemetery in Manila.
Families were given the option of deciding whether their loved ones would remain in the Philippines, where they’d fallen, or be returned to the United States for burial in private or national cemeteries stateside.
Annie Smith said she wanted her son to come back home.
His remains were further identified through dental records, then placed aboard a cargo ship specially modified to serve as a mortuary vessel, most likely the USAT Jack J. Pendleton, for the voyage back to the United States.  The coffin, accompanied by a military escort, was placed on a train bound for Chicago, then on to Midland. Arrangements were made for the coffin to be met by representatives of the Bradley Funeral Home in Midland on Feb. 15, 1949.
George Smith was buried in Old Calvary Cemetery, lot 8, square 3. Eventually, his mother, Annie K. Smith; his brother, Bernard J. Smith; and his sister, Bessie L. Smith, would join him there.
Balete Pass back in the Philippines was renamed Dalton Pass after it was taken by American forces, in honor of the fallen general, and it’s still sometimes called that today. Up the trail from the pass, there are three monuments, one dedicated to Gen. Dalton, another put up by Japanese families, praying for the souls of their loved ones eternally sealed in their defensive caves. The third monument commemorates the sacrifice of the soldiers of the American 25th Division, including the 161st Regiment, Pvt. George A. Smith among them.
There’s another monument of sorts, in Midland. It’s a Government-Issue grave marker in the Old Calvary Catholic Cemetery, which reads, “George A. Smith, Michigan, PVT 161 INF, World War II, July 19, 1925-April 26, 1945.”*
(Randolph D. Brandt is a retired newspaper editor living in Racine, Wis. He is a member of Phi Alpha Theta, recognizing conspicuous scholarship in the field of history.) 
*Editor’s note: George A. Smith’s Army records confirm his birth date in 1926. His brother, Thomas Smith, wrote in his own autobiography, prepared for the family in the early 1990s, that brother George had been born in 1925, but he then later corrected himself in a subsequent chapter to place George’s birth in 1926. As such, it would appear the 1925 date on Pvt. George A. Smith’s grave marker is in error.

Many people assisted in the research to discover what really happened to Pvt.  George A. Smith, killed on Luzon, the Philippines, on April 26, 1945. Among them:
William Beigel of Torrance, Calif., who specializes in personalized research of World War II and Korean War casualties, and who managed to find Pvt. Smith’s “293” file, along with unpublished after-action reports of the 161st Infantry Regiment.
Elmer T. Horne Jr. of Tallahassee, Fla., Camp Fannin Association, who entered Pvt. Smith’s name to the Camp Fannin Roll of Honor, recognizing soldiers from the training camp who died during World War II.
Francesca Cumero of Redway, Calif., whose great uncle, SSgt. Angelo S. Viale of the 161st Regiment, earned the Distinguished Service Cross for his heroism at the Battle of Balete Pass. Francesca honors her late Uncle Angelo’s memory by organizing “Angelo’s WWII Angels,” a group that works to recover lost soldiers’ dog tags from Pacific islands so they can be returned to the families.  Francesca has met with many veterans and surviving family members of major figures in the Battle of Balete Pass, and provided key insights concerning terrain, conditions and World War II occurrences there.
Cheryl Demski Speaker of Midland, Mich., who’s visited many of the cemeteries around Midland to record epitaphs and put them online for genealogical researchers.
Gary and Helen Altman of Midland, who tracked down Pvt. Smith’s GI grave marker and took photos of the site in Old Calvary Cemetery.
Susan Kemp, family services counselor for Calvary Cemeteries, Diocese of Saginaw, who kindly provided a cemetery map, directions to the gravesite, and copies of existing burial record cards for Pvt. Smith and other Smith family members buried in Old Calvary Cemetery.
Michael Knudson of the Bismarck-Mandan Historical and Genealogical Society, who searched the library of the North Dakota Historical Society for information about the Smith family’s brief domicile in Adams, N.D., and provided helpful tips on further avenues of research.
... and, of course, the recollections of Bonnie J. (Smith) Hollis, who was the main inspiration for bringing The Brief Life of Pvt. George A. Smith back to life.
Notes on sources
Information on the personal experiences of George A. Smith comes from his diary, kept between Jan. 1, 1944 and Oct. 4, 1944, Pvt. Smith’s fifth day at Camp Fannin, Tex. It is a leather-bound, five-year diary in the writer’s possession. Also, George A. Smith’s obituary, published in the Midland Daily News, Midland, Mich. May 29, 1945.
Information on the Smith family was taken mostly from the unpublished typescript autobiography of Thomas J. Smith, George Smith’s brother, written around 1990, and the personal recollections of George Smith’s niece, Bonnie J. (Smith) Hollis.
 The details of Pvt. Smith’s death, the recovery of his body and circumstances of his initial burial on Luzon, subsequent disinterment and transportation back to the United States for reburial in Midland were found primarily in his “293” file uncovered by World War II researcher William Beigel, and Bill’s analysis of the documents, dated March 21, 2011.
For descriptions of Camp Fannin and basic training, primary reliance was placed upon “Camp Fannin, Texas … A 50 Year Perspective,” by Gordon J. Neilson, published for the Camp Fannin Association by Tyler Press, Tyler, Tex., in 1993.  The Camp Fannin Association’s website also was consulted, coupled with a personal visit to the former site of Camp Fannin outside Tyler in January 2011.
For a general discussion of the problem-plagued replacement system during World War II, the writer relied upon D.K.R. Crosswell’s “The Life of General Walter Bedell Smith,” The University Press of Kentucky, 2010.  For more specific information on replacements to the 161st Infantry Regiment, Brig. Gen. Floyd W. Radike’s book, “Across The Dark Islands, The War in the Pacific,” Random House, 2003, is cited at appropriate places in the text.
In addition to Gen. Radike’s book, numerous sources were consulted for the military actions on Luzon, including:
-       Typescript after-action report of the 161st Infantry Regiment,  “Engagement for Balete Pass – Santa Fe Area.”
-       “161st Infantry Regiment, First Washington,” website of the 25th Infantry Division Association,
-       “U.S Army in World War II, The War in the Pacific, Triumph in the Philippines,” Robert Ross Smith. “Chapter 27, The Bambang Front – The 25th Division on Route 5.”
-       “James Dalton II,” From Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia./James_Dalton_II

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