World War II vet details experiences in Pacific
GLENVILLE "I remember it well," begins "Marine #419322," the memoir of Thomas Joseph Smith Jr.
"I was with my girlfriend (Connie) visiting friends, listening to the radio and just hanging out when the music stopped and a frantic voice was shouting, 'Pearl Harbor has been bombed. The Japs bombed Pearl Harbor.' There was dead silence, then shock and indignation. We were all upset, swearing vengeance, as most patriotic 17-year-olds would."
In 106 pages of text, complemented with letters, maps, articles and photos, Smith, a Glenville resident, details his experiences as a young Marine serving during World War II, from boot camp to his homecoming in 1945.
The book has yet to be published, but that never was his main motivation. It just felt good to get his story down on paper, he said.
Four major assault landings
One of the 25 original members of the 4th Marine Division, 24th Marines, Company F, Second Battalion, the Schenectady native weathered two years, 11 months and 28 days of service.
His time in battle included four major assault landings on islands in the Pacific, and four injuries.
He served as a rifleman, a machine-gunner and a scout, and his bravery earned him three Purple Hearts.
In less than three years, his division saw over 17,000 casualties.
"Once you put on the beach, there is no place to go but forward or inland. Thus the motto 'Kill or be killed,' " he wrote. "The battle now becomes a job except it is not eight hours a day but 24 hours a day, every day, until the battle is over. You now depend on your skills of the trade and your buddies for survival and strength."
Nearly 70 years after his days in combat, Smith's memories of the war are still vivid.
In an interview, he told of seeing hundreds of dead enemy soldiers piled on Mount Tapochau on the island of Saipan, of evacuating wounded soldiers while under heavy enemy fire, and of capturing a Japanese vice admiral on Tinian Island.
Smith produced a yellowing black-and-white photo of a handsome young soldier.
"That's me on Saipan. I weighed 128 pounds then. And this was my group," he said, pointing out a shot of a bunch of skinny young boys who still held on to a hint of the carefree air of youth.
Memories of his time in battle have not haunted him in later life, the 88-year-old said.
"I just dismissed it. To me it was a job, and I did it and it was over with," he explained. "It was just the way you were — a young kid fighting for his country."
Smith was inspired to write his story after attending an Iwo Jima reunion and reconnecting with some of his war buddies. He also felt it was time to tell it to his family.
He tearfully recalled his reunion with his father, Thomas J. Smith Sr., after the war:
"My dad wanted to see my wounds, and I never told him the story, so I thought I'd write the story for him, but he died before I finished," he said, his voice breaking with emotion.
He said he toys with finding a publisher for the book, but hasn't pursued that yet.
These days, Smith, a retired school administrator, swaps war stories with his buddy Sal Famularo, also of Glenville.
An Amsterdam native, Famularo was a fellow member of the 4th Marine Division, 24th Marines, Second Battalion. He was in Company G while Smith was in Company F.
The two never knew each other during the war, but met about three years ago while shopping at Walmart in Glenville, after they noticed they were wearing matching red-and-gold "4th Marine Division" hats.
"Every time the Second Battalion used to move out, going different places, Fox Company and George Company moved at the same time," Famularo recounted. "We probably ran across each other 100 times, not knowing each other."
Now the two men meet at McDonald's in Glenville for coffee.
During one of their regular visits, Famularo spoke of how World War II changed him and all of the young men who fought in it.
"You gave a son, and when he came home, he certainly came home like a man," he said.