Military career begins and ends in Europe
Concern mounted as gunshots suddenly became the second-most threatening deterrent of their mission.
Battling hypothermia as much as German troops seeking to take their lives, men like Cpl. Marvin Smith traipsed through drifts of snow more than two feet deep in Butgenbach, Belgium. His memory seems crystal clear even now as he slowly moves his head to speak about the Battle of the Bulge nearly 70 years later.
"I was so cold and shaky. I had two cans of food with me and I couldn't hardly open either one for shaking," Smith said. "A German plane came over strafing our area where we were and everybody who had a M1 was shooting at him because he was flying low. Laying out in the snow as long as we did has made me so stiff, I can barely turn my head."
Lingering physical effects are just a few difficult reminders of the time he spent as a member of the United States Army 1st Infantry Division from 1944 to 1946.
Smith is among elite company as one of the few remaining World War II veterans who visited Washington D.C. on the Flight of Honor to commemorate their accomplishments. He proudly exhibits a collection of medals from throughout the years in a glass display case on his living room wall, relics of a man who can attest to playing a role in stopping the quest of Adolph Hitler to conquer Europe.
"It was a serious time. I'm glad that I was able to have a part in it," Smith said. "If we hadn't whooped Hitler, we wouldn't have a country. He made one mistake jumping on Russia rather than crossing the English Channel and finishing England off. That gave us a foothold over there. As they say, it was his Waterloo."
The proud Smith family heritage did not end with heroism in the 1st Infantry.
His son, Roger Smith, mirrored his father's footsteps when he was stationed in Germany as a member of the Air Force. Father and son had a unique opportunity to survey the location together when Marvin visited Roger and they made the short trek over to where it all transpired.
"In 1989, just before he came back from over there, I went over there to see him," Marvin Smith said, smiling. "He was in the Air Force not very far from Butgenbach. We went over there to Butgenbach and saw the town where I started fighting. It was real interesting. He really enjoyed me being there."
The quiet moments the two men shared together half a world away might have gone largely unnoticed by a nation of more than 300 million people, but the results of their efforts cannot be measured. Free from tyrants and other threats to their way of life, men and women across this country have the opportunity to pay their respects to veterans like Marvin Smith without fear of harm — be it enemy fire or oppressive climate.