“There were giants in the earth in those days; and also after that, when the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men, and they bare children unto them, the same became mighty men which were of old, men of renown,” Genesis 6:4.
In this day, when fellows masquerading as men indulge in “manscaping” and wear their pajamas in public without shame, it’s good to know that men such as J.D. Smith still inhabit the earth.
Smith, 88, is a World War II U.S. Navy veteran who recently returned from a weekend in Washington, D.C. to view the WWII veteran’s Memorial, Annapolis and other historic sites in and around the Capitol.
“Please excuse the mess,” James, “J.D.” Smith says after general introductions at his home. The reporter only dreams of his desk looking as good as Smith’s tidy home.
Smith sits comfortably on his sofa with a twinkle in his eye as he says, “Everybody knows about the trip, but I didn’t even know I was gone myself.”
Honor Flight Nevada made the April 25- 27 trip possible for Smith. The group provides transportation and lodgings for WW II veterans to travel to Washington D.C. and view the memorial built in their honor.
Smith served in the U.S. Navy “Seabees” (CB—Construction Battalion) from 1943 to 1947. He observed or participated in some of the heaviest fighting in the Pacific theater during the war.
He remembered hearing about the bombing of Pearl Harbor from a neighbor and how he never thought of entering the service at the time, “There’s no way this will last very long, I told myself,” Smith said with a chuckle.
As part of the Seabees, Smith was not permanently stationed aboard a ship although he spent plenty of time at sea in the amphibious or “gator” navy.
“I was one of the youngest guys in our battalion,” he reminisced. “I was a “motor mac” or motor machinist.” Smith also spent about six months on the USS Hughes (DD-410) as a Gunner’s Mate.
Smith worked as a civilian mechanic for the Army when he was 17 and joined the Navy. “I had to get my parents to sign for me because I was a minor. They didn’t want me to go because I was so young, but I talked them into it,” he said.
The Navy initially sent Smith to Perth, Australia, followed by Ceylon (today’s Sri Lanka) and then to Calcutta, India. “That was one of those places I didn’t think we were supposed to be,” he said with a laugh.
Smith also worked on the airfields at Iwo Jima immediately after the invasion started. “We had a little fun there at Iwo. “We had Japs trying to land their planes on airstrips we were trying to repair,” Smith said, shaking his head with wonder. He added that Iwo Jima was the most memorable part of the war for him.
Later, Smith found himself at the “April Fool’s” Okinawa invasion, the largest amphibious assault of the Pacific theater. “It was quite a doin’s in Okinawa. I remember seeing the “Might Mo” (USS Missouri BB-62) shooting off those 16-inch guns. You could follow the white trail the projectiles made in the sky,” Smith said, still in awe of the sight.
Smith also spent a little time around Guam and more time around Tinian, part of the Mariana Islands, where he worked on a very important airstrip: Northfield. The two planes carrying atomic bombs for Nagasaki and Hiroshima left from that airstrip.
Like most WWII veterans, Smith is not sorry about the nuclear bombing of Japan. “We weren’t sorry, we were very bitter toward the Japanese. They were terrible in the way they treated American prisoners. We knew about the Bataan Death March and other things.”
“You know, I’m getting older now, and you ask me things—I don’t know if I’m getting my dates mixed up,” Smith said. All the dates Smith gave for the story were startlingly accurate.
After the war he and his wife Claudia Revon, or Blondie, as he called her, moved to Hawthorne to work for the then Navy base in August of 1949 or 1950. “We came in from the east and I saw all those bunkers and magazines and I wondered what a Navy base was doing in the middle of the desert,” Smith said with a laugh.
“I lost my wife about a year ago,” Smith said with great sorrow, but with the stoicism of his generation, which accepted the inevitability of great loss without myopic self-pity.
Smith appreciated the chance to see the memorial and other sites. Besides viewing the memorial, Smith’s favorite activities included meeting Sen. Bob Dole, seeing the Tomb of the Unknowns and watching Annapolis Cadets performing marches on the “grinder.” The vets also received a 21- gun salute.
Shaking his head in disbelief, Smith holds a manila envelope in his lap. All the veterans on the trip experienced “mail call.” The veterans received hundreds of letters from grade-school children thanking them for their service.
Other incidents on the trip that sticks out in his mind took place at the Reno and Chicago airports. Hundreds of well-wishers gathered and thanked the veterans for their service. “We were treated so well that I didn’t want to come back,” Smith said.
Seeing Smith’s clear gaze and a type of personal steadfastness rare to see these days, it’s not hard to believe he is of the generation who made the world safe for democracy. They battled the Great Depression, toppled Hitler and forced Hirohito to cast off his cloak of divinity and declare his mortality to the Japanese people. Theirs is generation worthy of emulation.
Smith knows he is part of that generation whose personal sacrifices and achievements helped shape the America we know today. His generation saw duty and honor as an integral part of their lives and with no expectation of thanks or reward.
True to generational form, Smith doesn’t describe his generation as heroic. “We had soft doin’s and sometimes we didn’t do so good. But we got it done.”