Today is one of those days that I shy away from writing about sports. It’s almost Memorial Day; the holiday each year that I pause and remember our servicemen and women who gave their lives so that you and I could live and do what we please.
Each Memorial Day I especially remember one serviceman in particular; my uncle, Private David Young Smith who was killed in World War II. I was born seven years after my uncle died. I have a few old pictures of him that I received from one of my cousins and I also have his Purple Heart and his Silver Star medals.
Uncle David and my dad were very close. They were just a couple of years apart in age, and before entering the army, they spent every hour together. I’m told they were really good at shooting pool; so good in fact, they used to hustle older men in east Nashville in the taverns and bars. David who was two years older than my dad went to war first. He joined the 159th Combat Engineers from his base in Alabama, and was among the thousands of soldiers who stormed the shores of Normandy in France. They were part of the second wave to hit Omaha Beach, and drive their way inland.
One warm sunny day in August, the 159th had stopped to rest near a small, quaint French village. My uncle and a couple of his buddies were in the back of a supply truck moving boxes around, when a hand grenade fell from one of the men’s belt clips. It was never known which man’s clip it had come from, but the pin had fallen out and the three men had just a few seconds to decide what to do, before dozens, maybe hundreds would perish or be injured in the blast from the live grenade.
Uncle David did what he had been trained to do. He took off his helmet and dropped down on the floor of the truck bed and covered the grenade. The blast blew a huge hole in the bottom of the truck as well as in my uncle’s mid-section, but no one else was harmed.
As he lay dying on the ground, the French villagers cared for him as his comrades moved on further inland. There were tears in the eyes of many of his buddies as they were forced to leave him behind in the French countryside. The day was August 7, 1944 and the war would be over in less than a year.
When the 159th Combat Engineers returned home to their families, many of them named their sons David after my uncle. They also staged a long battle to have Private David Y. Smith commissioned with the Congressional Medal of Honor; our country’s highest military award for bravery. He had already been awarded the Purple Heart and the Silver Star, but there was one small catch in the Medal of Honor criteria; his act of bravery did not take place in military conflict against the enemy. That bit of information was finally given to his family in 2001, when he was presented with the Silver Star. It seems that he had been awarded the medal but his family had never received it. Thanks to the efforts of Congressman Zach Wamp in Chattanooga, the medal was presented to my son David in a special ceremony.
On August 7th of this year, we will mark the 70th anniversary of Uncle David’s death. His body still lies in the Brittany Memorial Cemetery in France; a place that none of my family has ever visited, but will hopefully visit soon.
My grandmother had four sons, and all four served in the military, with three of them fighting in World War II. Please remember these fallen heroes on Memorial Day. And if you see a veteran who is still with us, go up to them, hug them and say thank you. Because of their efforts and sacrifices, we as citizens of this great country have the freedom to enjoy this holiday and many more.
Randy Smith has been covering sports on radio, television and print for the past 45 years. After leaving WRCB-TV in 2009, he has written two books, and has continued to free-lance as a play-by-play announcer. He is currently teaching Broadcasting at Coahulla Creek High School near Dalton, Ga.
His career has included a 17-year stretch as host of the Kickoff Call In Show on the University of Tennessee’s prestigious Vol Network. He has been a member of the Vol Network staff for thirty years.
He has done play-by-play on ESPN, ESPN II, CSS, and Fox SportSouth, totaling more than 500 games, and served as a well-known sports anchor on Chattanooga Television for more than a quarter-century.
In 2003, he became the first television broadcaster to be inducted into the Greater Chattanooga Area Sports Hall of Fame. Randy and his wife Shelia reside in Hixson. They have two married children, (Christi and Chris Perry; Davey and Alison Smith.) They have three grandchildren, Coleman, Boone and DellaMae.
To contact Randy: firstname.lastname@example.org