JACKSONVILLE — Oscar Smith is the family hero.
“I did what I thought was the right thing to do. I didn't regret what I had to do, (but) I went through some hard times,” he said.
For Smith, memories of his service are plentiful, including how difficult it was to keep officers to lead the platoons.
He said most soldiers only knew what they read in a book, but that didn't work well once they got to the fighting.
“The first thing we would tell them is keep your head down …” Smith said. But “the first thing they wanted to do is stick their head up and look, (and) a sniper might be waiting for them and shoot them. One day we had a guy show up as a replacement officer, and the battalion commander sent him to me. … I was running the platoon because we didn't have any officers, (and) I told him what to expect.”
The next day, Smith was in battle.
He said they engaged German tanks in a wheat field, so they were setting back, waiting to see if Germans would make a move. Smith later saw an officer's tank go over the rise and heard shots from a German gun.
“I called a battalion officer and told him this new officer we got is gone and was told 'It's your baby, Oscar. Take over.' I thought 'OK, we'll see what happens.' After an hour or so, the Germans made their move. They were going to come over the rise and try to get us, but we took care of them,” Smith said.
“What sticks out there was the 36th infantry division Texas National Guard was going to make the initial landing ahead of us because tanks couldn't get there until someone got there ahead of us and put down a pontoon bridge so we could get off ship,” Smith said.
“When they finally got us off the ship, we had to drive across a stretch of water (and) had to drive over dead soldiers. The 36th division almost got wiped out right there. That was our first combat and I remember that today just like it was yesterday.”
Americans also tried to take the town of Anzio.
After they got ashore, they had to use a bulldozer to dig a hole for their tanks because the land was open and flat, Smith said.
“Every time we moved, they shot at us. … So after we got established there, the push came to go to Rome,” he said.
On the way there, Smith said two tanks were lost in the mine field, but the soldiers finally went into Rome.
“We got into Rome, and the people in Rome were so thick in the street. They were so happy to see us,” he said, adding that his tank was parked on St. Peter's Square.
“All they wanted was candy or cigarettes. They hadn't had that. We all had our rations every month of candy, gum and cigarettes, so we dished it out to them.”
Out of the 110 men Smith started with on the front lines, two were left when the war ended.
“That was the only two originally left. All of them didn't get killed, but a lot of them did,” Smith said.
He said it was wonderful to come back to America and see his wife, Christene, whom he married on Christmas Day 1941, and his son, Tim Smith, whom he hadn't seen since just after he was born. He and his wife had another child after the war.
Tim Smith said his mother saved money while his father was in the service so they could buy a business after the war.
The couple ended up buying a laundry facility, where patrons could rent machines by the hour. That business was closed in the mid-1960s, and the war veteran then bought another business shop in Tyler, where he drove every day from Jacksonville. He's been retired for 30 years, and he and his wife have been members of First Baptist Church in Jacksonville since 1950.
“That was just home. My folks and her folks all live right here,” he said of the Jacksonville area.
Although they never lived anywhere else, they did a lot of traveling up until about 10 years ago and have seen most of the United States.
Oscar Smith said he's fished all over the country, and his favorite place is the Northwest because of the mountains and scenery.
When asked what she thinks of Smith and his life, his daughter-in-law, Julie Duren, said he and his wife are “just good people.”
“They're steady day in and out. They just live their lives, taking care of business. They're good citizens. They didn't expect anything in return except the chance to live here and raise their kids,” she said.
Tim Smith said his father's entire generation stands out because of what it did for the country.
“They saved the world from Naziism. He's our hero,” he said.