War on Their Minds
Mr. Smith during the war   Larry Smith
Age in 1941: 22

Interview Team: Kim Smith, Rachel Santillo
  Mr. Smith in 2001



Q: What is your name?

Mr. Smith: Lawrence Smith


Q: What was your age in 1941?

Mr. Smith: I was 22 years old.


Q: What is your place of birth?

Mr. Smith: Boston, Mass


Q: Where were you raised?

Mr. Smith: Everett, Mass


Q: To what extent were you aware of the happenings in Japan, Italy, and Germany during the 1930's?

Mr. Smith: All you could do was find out from the newspapers. That's all I knew.


Q: Explain how you first became aware of the dangers in Europe, (Hitler) and Asia (Emperor Hirohito/War Minister Tojo)

Mr. Smith: Well, I first became aware of it when they inducted me into the army.


Q: Okay, What was your reaction to the war in Europe (invasion of Poland, Battle of Britain fall 1940/ "Blitz")? What was your reaction to all the battling in Europe?

Mr. Smith: It was very, very bad.


Q: Okay, what are your remembrances of the attack on Pearl Harbor?

Mr. Smith: Well, everybody was pretty perturbed about that.


Q: And you said you remembered where you were when Pearl Harbor happened?

Mr. Smith: Well not exactly, I was in Everett I believe.


Q: It was a big event when it happened. It was all over the newspapers?

Mr. Smith: Yes it was.


Q: Did you think America was going to join the war?

Mr. Smith: I believed they would. I didn't know how long it would take.


Q: What were your feelings when America declared war?

Mr. Smith: Well I said, here we go again. We are into it now.


Q: Did your feelings change during or after the war?

Mr. Smith: I don't think so.


Q: Under what circumstances did you enter the war? Did you volunteer or were you drafted?

Mr. Smith: I was drafted.


Q: You were 22 at the time?

Mr. Smith: Around there, yes.


Q: Which branch of the armed forces did you join?

Mr. Smith: I joined the Air Force. I actually wanted to go into the Navy, but when I went to sign up they said the Navy and the Marines were full. The army accepts you.


Q: Why did you want to go into the Navy over the army?

Mr. Smith: I figured I could save money that way and see the world.


Q: You wanted to go into the Navy, but you actually went into the army because it was the only availability?

Mr. Smith: That's right, at the time.


Q: How was it like saying good-bye to your loved ones?

Mr. Smith: It was quite traumatic because it was only a few weeks before Lawrence was born. He was due.


Q: Lawrence was your first son born?

Mr. Smith: Yes, and I was in Florida when he was born. I wanted to stay a few weeks with my wife, but they wouldn't let me.


Q: How did it feel that you knew you son was going to be born, and you were gone for four weeks prior to that?

Mr. Smith: It was very bad. As I say, any woman wants a husband to be with her when the family comes. That was the first baby, and here I was down in Florida when it happened. One night they woke me up with a telegram. It was quite a surprise because I knew she was going to come along, but I didn't know exactly when.


Q: Did you get to leave after the telegram came?

Mr. Smith: No.


Q: When did you get to leave to see your son for the first time?

Mr. Smith: I was down there for six weeks, then I went from there by train to {Chanute Field?}, Illinois. It is about 100 miles south of Chicago. I went to school there. It's a great big air base with all kinds of schools. They had craft engine and Teletype, and that is what I got into. It was during that time I was there that my wife brought the baby all the way to {Chanute Field?}. She stayed with me for a while.


Q: She took a train to see you?

Mr. Smith: Yes, she took a train from Boston to Chicago and then to {Chanute Field?} from there.


Q: You said when you got the telegram you were at Florida for basic training. What do you remember about basic training?

Mr. Smith: It was terrible! Oh, It was hot down there. We were all marching, from one end of the day to the other. We were near the ocean, and they didn't let us into the ocean once.


Q: And where were you sent after the basic training?

Mr. Smith: I went to Chanute, Illinois. They sent me to Teletype school. Before that, I had never touched a Teletype.


Q: Would you consider that one of the special skills you learned?

Mr. Smith: That was the only skill I learned.


Q: After you went to Illinois, where did you go next?

Mr. Smith: We went to school there and my wife came out with the baby for a while. Also her brother was at the Great Lakes, training, he was in the Navy and he came down and visited us. We went from there, and five of us left by train and came to Boston. I was the only one in the group that got home that night because my family then lived Bowdoin Street in Boston.


Q: So when did you actually start your war experience, after basic training?

Mr. Smith: When I got up to Newfoundland, that was the experience up there. We went by train up to Presque Isle, Maine, then we flew from Presque Isle, Maine and I didn't know where I was going. We landed in Gander, Newfoundland, which at that time I didn't even know where it was located. I realized that while I was in Newfoundland I would be able to see my mother, she was born in Newfoundland.


Q: What was your role while you were in Newfoundland?

Mr. Smith: Well, I was just a maintenance man that's all. I was at Gander for about a year and a half, and I worked on transmitters and radios, testing tubes and stuff like that. We had a radio by the name of super pro they called it, it had about 40 tubes in it, of course they had to be checked quite often. If they got weak you would have to change tubes, I did maintenance work and stuff like that.


Q: Were you ever involved in direct combat?

Mr. Smith: Never.


Q: Are you very thankful for that?

Mr. Smith: Am I? I guess so, anybody is glad to get out of that.


Q: How did your faith impact your thoughts of war? Did you consider yourself lucky?

Mr. Smith: Well, I never knew when I was going to be transferred. I got the best duty of anyone in the whole army.


Q: Did you ever see direct combat?

Mr. Smith: At Gander they were sinking U-boats by using the PBY's, that's the consolidated aircrafts. When I first got there they would leave with bombs under their wings and be gone for the rest of the day, and they would come back at night without the bomb. Then I knew that they had drove the U-boats away.


Q: At Gander did you make stuff to help sink the U-boats?

Mr. Smith: No, nothing. Just radio, but we communicated between the aircraft and Gander.


Q: So you communicated with airplanes?

Mr. Smith: That's right. We also worked with Preswick, England and North Africa with the transmitters we had. I think they had about 100 radio operators there. They handled groups of messages, and there were like five in a group and they handled 3 million messages, a lot of traffic.


Q: What did you miss most about the United States when you were in Newfoundland?

Mr. Smith: What did I miss most? Well, not being home, and I missed not getting milk, fresh milk. Would you believe that? I made up for it since.


Q: Why do you think that you didn't get milk? Was there a lack of it?

Mr. Smith: Milk up there was evaporated and in cans. We used to take the cans and drink evaporated milk. Didn't have potatoes, everything was instant. Meat was fresh, and we got all the butter we wanted in the mess halls. Not fresh milk, I missed it.


Q: Did you hunt your own meat up there? Is that where you got your fresh meat?

Mr. Smith: No, no Gander had great big mess halls and they brought it in by train. When I was in Wesleyville it would come in by boat and we would have to store it in great big food lockers, all kinds of porks and steaks. We had all kinds of meat.


Q: What was your attitude on a personal level toward the Germans and the Japanese?

Mr. Smith: Well I never got involved with either one of them. I don't know, if I were involved I probably would have been like a lot of other people.


Q: Have you maintained contact with anybody in our unit?

Mr. Smith: No, I haven't seen or heard from any of them.


Q: Why not?

Mr. Smith: I don't know, I just lost tract. Like these pictures I have, it has their name and the town where they are from. My other son in Florida wrote to some of them, and he never got an answer. Of course they could have moved and it was a long time ago, 50 years back.


Q: Did you lose any of your friends or family during the war?

Mr. Smith: No.


Q: Is that because your friends were mostly in your unit? And you never went into direct combat?

Mr. Smith: Well, none of my friends ever went in with me and the only friends I made was while I was in Gander. Some of them you only met t for a month or something and then you never heard from them again.


Q: What about your wife's brother?

Mr. Smith: He was in the Navy and he was taken to basic training at Great Lakes.


Q: He turned out ok?

Mr. Smith: Yes, he was in the navy and he was younger than I was and he is dead now.


Q: Why weren't any of your friends drafted into the Army?

Mr. Smith: Well, I didn't have many friends, but some of them wanted to get into the Marines. I hope they are still alive because the Marines and Navy was tough. I'm glad I didn't make the Navy, because when I saw some of the stuff going on I might be at the bottom of the ocean right now. I was very lucky.


Q: What was your favorite memory of the war?

Mr. Smith: Well, the most exciting thing I remember seeing was at Gander and I remember looking down the run and I saw 100 B-17's all lined up or circling and coming in at night.


Q: Did you participate in a homecoming ceremony?

Mr. Smith: No.


Q: What was it like seeing your family and friends again?

Mr. Smith: Out of this world, out of this world!


Q: Were you aware of the Japanese in camps in the United States?

Mr. Smith: No, didn't know a thing about it.


Q: Did you feel it was justified after you found out about it?

Mr. Smith: Hard question, I don't know. I assume most of them were alright, but I suppose not all of them were.


Q: Do you think the Americans did that because they were afraid of spies?

Mr. Smith: Yes, at the time. Probably most of them were good guys, but how could you tell a good one from a bad one?


Q: Were there any Japanese or African Americans in your unit?

Mr. Smith: No, some units had Japanese units and they did wonderful.


Q: Did American that you knew ever note the irony of racial segregation at home and in the armed forces while fighting intolerance abroad?

Mr. Smith: No, not that I knew of.


Q: Why didn't people take note of this in your opinion?

Mr. Smith: I don't know I didn't see any of it. We had colored fellows, I don't remember seeing any Chinese or Japanese it's hard to tell one from the other. There were only eight of us at Gander we were at the Canadian side.


Q: What was your reaction to Germans treatment of Jews?

Mr. Smith: Well, it was terrible, the Russians and the Japanese didn't do much better though.


Q: How did you view President Franklin D. Roosevelt's leadership during the war?

Mr. Smith: I thought he was the greatest.


Q: Why?

Mr. Smith: Well it seems to me that he did everything right. Anybody can make mistakes but coming in and starting out the way he did, getting people back to work and whatnot.


Q: Would you perhaps consider him the best president we ever had?

Mr. Smith: Well, I can think of 2 or 3 that are the best.


Q: But would he be right up there?

Mr. Smith: Yeah, right up there. I would say Washington, Lincoln, and Roosevelt, the three best we've had that's my opinion.


Q: How did you react to the news of F.D.R.'s death?

Mr. Smith: I was very sad. But you know as he came along and I remember seeing him, every time you saw him he looked terrible. He looked much worse but none of us could tell when he would pass away.


Q: What was your opinion of President Truman's wartime leadership?

Mr. Smith: I think he did a great job. A lot of people said he used the atomic bomb, but in the long run isn't it a lot better? I think. Look how many would have died if he didn't use it. I think it was good, I think it was really good.


Q: At the end of the war did you anticipate future wars? Or did it seem to you that countries would find other ways of resolving conflicts?

Mr. Smith: I didn't think they'd ever get into that again, but as you see we've done that again two or three times now. As far as I'm concerned Vietnam and Korea was a joke, never should have happened.


Q: Why do you think the atomic bomb saved more lives in the long run?

Mr. Smith: What they claim is that if we invaded Japan, there would have been more of our boys killed, and more of them killed.


Q: Do you think a lot of other Veterans feel that way?

Mr. Smith: Well, I think so. There are pros and cons but I really think it was the best thing to do.


Q: Do you think people our age could understand the reasoning behind it?

Mr. Smith: Well, I was there and I understand, but I don't know what you kids think about it.


Q: What are the lessons of World War II?

Mr. Smith: Oh boy, well, it was terrible and it never should have happened. If they stopped Hitler when he first started it would have made a lot difference. But who can tell?


Q: What do you think about today's generation of young Americans?

Mr. Smith: Well, I am afraid of the next war, because there is a lot of feeling now like Vietnam and Korea when a lot of people went to Canada to get away from the draft. I can understand that too.


Q: How are we different from the generation of World War II?

Mr. Smith: I don't know.


Q: Tom Brokaw said that your generation is the greatest generation that America has ever seen? Do you believe that?

Mr. Smith: Yes I believe that so far. All you have to do is look at the crosses everywhere of all the men that were killed, I think in Europe alone there were 40 or 50 million killed now that's terrible.


Q: Do you have any parting advice for the youth today?

Mr. Smith: Yeah, stay out of trouble. When I see some of the stuff done now it bothers me.


Q: Do you have anything else to add?

Mr. Smith: I like being able to see some of my relatives.


Q: Overall was it a good experience?

Mr. Smith: Overall it was a wonderful experience, but, if I had my choice I wouldn't have gone. You went or they put you in jail. As I said before I was one of the luckiest G.I.s in this country.


Q: Were you proud to serve your country?

Mr. Smith: I was proud to go. At the time I was hoping that I would never have to shoot anybody. I don't think I could ever do that. We had rifles and all that stuff, but I don't think I could shoot anyone. Well, maybe if someone was shooting at me.


Q: Thank you for your time and thank you for the interview.

Mr. Smith: Sure.

 


Mr. Smith describes his reaction to FDR's death. (Quicktime)

crew
Receiver Station Crew (Larry Smith: back center)

Larry Smith
Larry Smith

Barracks
Newfoundland Barracks

training
Larry Smith in Training

Larry Smith
Larry Smith: front right