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MY MOST UNFORGETTABLE ARMY CHARACTER

JOHN HENRY SMITH (SMITTY

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Who can ever forget SP4 John Henry  Smith? He has been the target of many jabs over the last 40 years . Although most of us will never forget him, most of us really never knew him. He didn't socialize with any battery members as I recall and stayed on the post, to himself a good deal of the time. I got to know him, probably as well as anyone in the battery due to the fact that I worked for him and lived with him. Smith was an educated, sensitive, caring man. He took his job seriously and did it well. The attitude that he put on in the kitchen, I think ,was an act. All he wanted in life was to be respected. I for one, respected him.

Smitty was born in rural Ohio, sometime around 1920. He stayed in the small town he was born in until WWII broke out, when he he enlisted in the U.S. Navy. Smitty had graduated from high school and thought that he could be more than a mess steward in the navy, but discrimination prevailed in those days and he remained a steward aboard a ship in the Pacific until the war ended. Although stewards weren't allowed to cook, Smith took an interest in cooking and after the war enrolled under the G.I. Bill in the Culinary Institute of America. He graduated  with a certificate in culinary art.  Armed with that certificate Smitty headed for Cleveland Ohio and intended to be head chef at a fancy hotel. Apparently, in spite of his culinary education he was given a job low on the totem pole. He worked at the hotel for a while and deceided that he would go to work as a chef on one of the well known railroads (I don't remember which one it was). Smitty stayed with the railroad for a couple of years and found that the working conditions and the living conditions were not what he wanted to do for the rest of his life.  When the Korean conflict broke out Smith thought he would go back into the navy. He learned however that he would probably would go back to his former status as a mess steward . He found out that he could enlist in the army and practice his profession of cooking. I know nothing of his service prior to coming to Mortar Battery except that he was stationed at Fort Leonard Wood MO. before coming to Fort Benning. I also know that he had never been exposed to segregation in civilian life , as it was practiced in Columbus Georgia  (blacks had to sit in the back of the bus, they had seperate drinking fountains, waiting rooms etc.). He came to Mortar Battery because he had re-enlisted shortly before and requested duty in Germany. Germany was a great dissapointment to him. Segregation was alive and well in Bamberg. The black soldiers were latently restricted to the Nurnberg Strasse area. If a black soldier went into any of the regular GI bars, chances are he would be ignored by the staff and in some of the places be asked to leave. One of Smittys frequent utterances were "Yes sir...as much as I hated Columbus Georgia, I wouldn't mind being back there now".

Smith never received mail, nor did he ever write any letters. He never mentioned any brothers or sisters or his father. I seem to remember that his mother was still living at that time although I have the impression she was quite old. He told me that his grandmother had been a slave.

I guess that no one ever kept track of Smitty. I never heard where he went after Mortar Battery. I often wonder if he stayed in the army until he retired. He would be in his early eightys now I would guess, if he is still living. As far as the social security death index is concerned.....guess how many JOHN SMITHS are listed on it!

Smitty, believe it or not......more than 40 years later the majority of the Mortar Battery guys still remember you.

EAT WHAT YOU RECOGNIZE....GODDAMN IT