Bradford E. Smith’s Memories of World War II
The Smith family name has been well known in Hebron for two centuries, going back to 1794 when Nathan Smith purchased land from Increase Porter. That homestead, which is still in the family today, has housed generations of Smiths, members of which have carefully documented not only their genealogical lines but also the historical events that have shaped and influenced both their family and their town.
Many residents today still remember Edward Ashley Smith, and his wife, Annie Palmer, and their large farm which produced dairy products, eggs and apples. Ed and Annie married in 1918, and a few years later, they purchased the Phelps/Waldo farm across the road from the Smith homestead. It was here that their three children, Bradford Edward, Edwin Richardson, and Marie Purington, were raised. The beautiful four-pillared house, built around 1852, remains one of Hebron’s most unique historical homes.
The Smiths’ firstborn, Bradford, was born in 1919, and attended Hebron’s Center School (now the American Legion/VFW). Like most of his peers, he attended Willimantic High School and graduated in 1937. His parents, keen on education, encouraged their children to learn and study, despite the daily demands of the farming operation. It was no surprise that Brad went on to Yale after high school, earning a Bachelor’s degree in Industrial Administration in 1941. During that time, he was also a 4-year member of the ROTC.
We know much of what happened to this young Hebron resident as a direct result of his lifelong love of genealogy and history. Recently, Brad’s son, Edward, who now lives in Glastonbury, provided the Society with a vast number of documents written by his father. One in particular, “Military History of Bradford E. Smith 1941-1945,” provides wonderful insight into Brad’s years following his graduation from Yale. This document was ultimately submitted to Dr. Stephen Ambrose, and is now included in the collection of World War II memories at the Eisenhower Center in Abilene, Kansas.
War, of course, had already broken out in Europe, so it came as no surprise when he was called for active duty on August 28, 1941. Off he went to Fort Sill, Oklahoma as a commissioned Second Lieutenant, returning briefly to Connecticut on December 3, 1941, where he married his longtime sweetheart, Lois Helen Goulett, at her home in West Haven. The young couple honeymooned while making the long drive to Brad’s next military assignment at Fort Knox, Kentucky.
They arrived at the base on December 7, the same day that the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. While concerned with this change in the war effort, and its implications for American servicemen, the young couple had other things on their minds, such as finding a place to live. “The news of the attack on Pearl Harbor was coming over the airways…[but] we were concerned with finding a place to live that night. We finally left our friends, went to Elizabethtown, went into the local drug store and luckily the druggist knew of a place for us to live.”
Brad’s division, the 5th Armored, was transferred in February 1942 to Camp Cooke, California, where he and Lois lived in a motel while Brad underwent intensive training, including one month in the Mohave Desert. The entire unit of the 58th Armored F.A. Battalion, which included Brad’s division, was then alerted for overseas duty, and Brad, now a First Lieutenant, and the men were transferred in August by Pullman-car train cross country to Camp A.P. Hill, Virginia.
In November, Brad left for Camp Kilmer, New Jersey where he was scheduled to ship out to the African theatre, and Lois returned to her parent’s home in West Haven. She was to stay there for nearly three years, bearing and raising their first son, Edward, while her husband was overseas.
“By November 1st 1942 we were loaded on a ship near New Brunswick, New Jersey, the Santa Rosa, bound for Casablanca. Then followed some 18 days rolling on the ocean. The ship rolled and rolled. We learned to our amazement that the ship could roll 55 degrees off the vertical and still right itself. Men could not stay on their feet in the mess hall, and that soon became a real mess.”
Brad’s first “base” was in Casablanca, where his duties were varied… and fascinating. “When FDR (Franklin Delano Roosevelt) came to Marrakech, we had to post guards every few hundred feet, all the way from Casablanca to Marrakech. This was the famous meeting of FDR and Churchill.” His first combat mission, occurring just two days after he was promoted to Captain, was in Maknassy, where, on March 22, 1943, “we held the west flank of Rommel’s forces while they retreated northward past us and other allied troops.” Brad documents the scarcity of arms, many of which were malfunctioning due to the never-ending sand storms.
There was a short period of “peaceful life” after the German forces surrendered in Tunisia, but the young Captain was soon transferred to Sicily. “At first there was no opposition, and hordes of Italian soldiers came to us with hands in the air and waving white flags of surrender. We couldn’t be bothered with them and simply waved them on to the rear echelons where the units in charge of PWs could take care of them.” After a few more skirmishes, the Italian theatre was declared over, and Brad’s battalion was notified that they would soon be on their way to England to join the operations there. His time in England was “relaxes and peaceful.”
“Eventually dances were arranged for the enlisted men and others for the officers…The local people were most hospitable. On a more serious note, several talks were given to other service units about our experiences in Africa and Sicily. Hopefully our experiences were helpful to them who had not yet experienced combat... [We even took a] trip to London for a few days of schooling. This permitted us to see the sights of London, including some plays, Madame Tousseau’s Wax Works, and St. Paul’s Cathedral. A trip to nearby Oxford gave us a brief look at the university there. But all good things must come to an end…” The battalion was given orders to move on to France, where they faced the one of the biggest challenges of World War II. The largest ir, land, and sea operation ever undertaken, before or since that time, included 5,000 ships, 11,000 airplanes, and almost 200,000 Allied personnel against Hitler’s forces on the beaches of Normandy.
Brad’s detailed memories that fateful day is harrowing. “D-Day was scheduled for June 5, 1944... However, the invasion was canceled the first day and we all turned around and went back into the harbor and sat on the ships. But the next day we started again and this time it was for real… The beach was so covered with dust and smoke, it was almost impossible to see where our shells were landing, but we did the best we could.” At its appointed time to head into the beach, his ship was hit almost immediately by a mine, rendering it inoperable. The delay may have saved his life. More than 4,000 Allied forces died that fateful day in history, and Brad witnessed many of his friends counted among those deaths.
Brad faithfully recorded the daily events of the war, from June 6 through November 2, 1944, noting in his document that those details were “taken extensively from my notes taken at that time and recorded in a Transit Notebook.” On September 29, in the middle of this hell, and as his battalion moved into Germany, he was promoted to Major. Young Bradford Smith of Hebron, Connecticut, was barely 25 years old.
At that point, Major Smith was transferred: “The second unit that I served with in the European Theater of operations was the 406 Field Artillery Group, from Nov. 24, 1944 to June 1945.” The war was winding down, and his role then supported the Occupational Forces, although seeing the Russians arrive in jeeps was concerting.
It was time to go home. “In typical Army fashion there was a point system to determine who had priority on getting home. You were awarded points for each campaign you served in, for a wife, for a child. Being a veteran of Africa and Sicily, as well as Europe, I had many more points than anyone else in the 406th…” After a long flight from Casablanca to Miami, Florida (via Morocco, Dakar, and Brazil), Brad boarded a train, finally heading back to Connecticut.
“While waiting on the platform a conversation with one of he officials of the New York New Haven and Hartford Railroad brought out the information that my wife lived in West Haven, and that her father, Paul R. Goulett, was a vice-president of the Railroad. e then made things happen. He called the Gouletts and got instructions to get his car and bring me out to 175 Church St., West Haven. So I arrived to be greeted by my wife, our son Edward, and Mr. and Mrs. Goulett after an absence of 33 months.”
Welcome home, Brad. Welcome home to all the valiant men and women who have served our country so well in times of war.