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George A. Smith

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George A. Smith Jr.
Col George A Smith Jr.jpg
BornMarch 29, 1902
Denver, Colorado, United States
DiedKilled in Action March 1, 1945 (aged 42)
Sindorf (Kerpen), Germany
Buried
Allegiance United States
Service/branch United States Army
Years of service1926–1945
RankUS-O6 insignia.svg Colonel
Unit104th Infantry Division
Commands held18th U.S. Infantry Regiment
Battles/warsWorld War II
AwardsSilver Star (2)
Legion of Merit (2)
Bronze Star (3)
Croix de Guerre
French Legion of Honour
Croix de guerre (Belgium)
Purple Heart

George A. Smith, Jr. was a highly-decorated United States Army officer who commanded the 18th Infantry Regiment, of the 1st Infantry Division in the Sicily, the Normandy landings at Omaha Beach on D-Day and major battles in France, Belgium, and Germany from May 1943 to February 1945. In February 1945, he was promoted to Assistant Division Commander of the 104th Infantry Division, under Major General Terry de la Mesa Allen Sr.. This assignment normally meant promotion to brigadier general.[1]

Early years[edit | edit source]

George Albert Smith Jr was born on March 29, 1902 in Denver, Colorado, to George A. and Edith Pierce Smith, the youngest of two children. George attended East Denver High School for two years before transferring to Wentworth Military Academy and College and later to Marion Military Institute. George received a Presidential appointment and entered the United States Military Academy in West Point, New York on July 1, 1922.

West Point[edit | edit source]

George spent all four years in “D” Company, and a classmate writes: “His background at Marion Institute had prepared him to be a precise, military, efficient, soldierly cadet who knew how to bark out commands. During the absence of upper classmen George was appointed acting company commander, and he accomplished this assignment with great efficiency.” George was a corporal his second class year and in June 1925 was made company supply sergeant. He was a member of the Beast Detail, and there his ability was recognized for at the end of the summer he was appointed the fourth ranking cadet captain and became a battalion commander. "No other cadet in our time at the Academy had such a meteoric rise." [2] He graduated on June 12, 1926 and was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant.

Military Career[edit | edit source]

Although he had the choice of several branches upon graduation, George chose the Infantry and in August 1926 reported to Fort Douglas, Utah, where he was assigned to the 38th Infantry. A classmate who served with him stated: “George was a dedicated officer who inspired trust and was born leader. Those under him know him to be firm but always fair. Even in those days when promotion looked anything but rosy, George took his job seriously and, on many afternoons, when the rest of us might be free, he was more often than not down at the Company busying himself in some way.” [2] The duties of a second lieutenant then as now were numerous and challenging. George’s system for each was simple and constant - do it well and get it done.

In September 1928, he was deployed to Schofield Barracks, Territory of Hawaii, where he was assigned to the 21st Infantry. In 1931, he returned to the mainland. George was assigned to the 25th Infantry where he served for three years as a company commander at Camp Stephen D. Little, Nogales, Arizona, and Fort Huachuca, Arizona. He was promoted to first lieutenant February 1, 1932. George was sent to Fort Benning in August 1934 and there he spent his longest tour of peacetime duty at one post. He graduated from the Regular Course and the Tank Course of The Infantry School and served with the 66th Infantry and with the 94th Antitank Battalion. Promotion to major came in January 1941, and in April George was ordered to Camp Wheeler, Georgia. The Army was in the midst of its reorganization and training programs in Europe, and from that time on, he did not return to the states very often.

Successive assignments were: Group Plans and Training Officer and Battalion Executive Officer, Camp Wheeler; Military Observer, Office of the Military Attaché, London; Assistant to the Assistant Chief of Staff, G3, General Headquarters, Army War College; member, Future Operations Section, Strategy and Policy Group, Operations and Plans Division, War Department General Staff, and Assistant to Operations Officer, G3, Armed Forces Headquarters, London, Gibraltar and Algeria. George was promoted to lieutenant colonel on February 1, 1942 and to colonel on November 23, 1943.

In May 1943 he received the assignment to command the 18th Infantry Regiment of the 1st Division. His regiment participated in the Sicily, Normandy, Northern France, Ardennes-Alsace and Rhineland Campaigns. Another laurel wreath was added in February 1945, when George was appointed Assistant Division Commander of the 104th (Timberwolf) Division, an assignment that normally meant promotion to brigadier general."[3]

Major General Terry Allen later wrote to George’s wife on March 27th,” Your husband was a gallant soldier and one of my best friends. As you probably know, George served under me in the old 1st Division in North Africa and Sicily when he commanded the 18th Infantry. I had several times previously recommended him for promotion to Brigadier General, because of his outstanding leadership and combat efficiency. I was delighted that he was promoted last February, and assigned to this division to serve as my Assistant Division Commander. He, too, seemed quite pleased with the assignment, and I may add that the whole Timberwolf Division was proud indeed to have him join us in that capacity.”[4]

Normandy Landing[edit | edit source]

The 18th Regiment landed on Omaha Beach in the second wave of the Normandy landing on June 6, 1944. In a letter to his wife dated June 21, 1944, George recounted his experience on that day: “I personally landed ... when the beach was under heavy fire. The trip over was uneventful not even an air attack. The only troublesome thing was the rough seas which caused our very small boat to go through many convulsions. Believe you me, I don’t think I’ll care much for ocean traveling after this war.. After landing…ran the length of the beach to find the general. When I got the dope, contacted the units and we pushed inland...” “... we have pushed steadily into Normandy. These lads of mine are fighting fools. They have marched, fought, dug trenches, day after day without complaint and with wonderful spirit. Who says this modern generation is soft. Hitler has no more claim that he has all the supermen. This has been an operation on a grand scale. The sight of all the shipping and planes in the channel is really something to see. Have never seen in all my experience .... so many troops and so much equipment.”[5]

On this day, George was awarded his first Silver Star for gallantry in action. “For gallantry in action in the vicinity of St. Laurent-sur-Mer, Normandy, France, 6 June 1944. During a crucial hour of the invasion, Colonel Smith boldly traversed the entire length of the beach under heavy shell and sniper fire to contact the division command post and advise his superiors as to the situation in his sector. Colonel Smith’s tactics and technique enabled his regiment to quickly repulse the enemy and seize the objective. Entered military service from the United States at large.”

Personal Life[edit | edit source]

George met and married Jean Delphine Haviland while stationed at Fort Douglas in Utah. They were married in Salt Lake City, on August 8, 1928. They had three children, one of which died in infancy. At the time of his death, he was survived by his wife, Jean, and two children, Patricia and George III.

Death[edit | edit source]

Colonel Smith’s death occurred on March 1, 1945, after an unexploded mortar round landed on the forward command post of the Timberwolf Division. The day was well documented with several firsthand accounts:

“On the eve of the venture across the Erft, Col Anthony Touart, commander of the 414th, tossed a small dinner at an ancient German farmhouse, Major General Terry Allen attended, along with the new assistant division commander, Brig. Gen. George A. Smith Jr., who replaced Brig. Gen. Bryant E. Moore, just chosen to head up the 8th Division. At 3 a.m., the attack across the Erft was to start. Allen stationed himself at the forward command post of the 414th located in a factory on the edge of Sindorf, while Touart and Smith – after conferring with Allen – left for the 2d Battalion forward observation post. A torrent of American artillery shells fell across the Erft with only a desultory response from the Germans. But in the redoubt occupied by Allen, a message by telephone advised that one of the German guns scored a direct hit on the 2d Battalion forward observation post about two hundred yards from where Allen waited for the attack to begin. He had expected to move up to that position shortly. According to Downs, Allen asked, “How bad is it?” Major Fred Flette, the regimental S-3 answered, “Pretty bad, sir, I’m afraid. They are digging them out.” It was a military catastrophe. Just as the troops had begun to engage the enemy in the darkness, they lost those responsible for overall command and control. Touart and Smith, who had been with the 104th only two days, were both dead along with the CO of the 2d Battalion, Lt. Col. Joseph M. Cummins Jr. Other key personnel were seriously wounded or stunned.”[6]

“While waiting at Bonn, tragic news made its way through the ranks of the 18th Infantry Regiment (United States). As the assault battalions of the 104th Infantry Division’s 414th Infantry Regiment was crossing the Erft Canal north of the 18th Infantry’s positions, a German Sturmtiger from the Sturm-Morser-Kompanie 1002 lobbed a gigantic 380mm mortar round at the house where the command post of the 2nd Battalion, 414th Infantry had been set up. Although it did not explode, the shell killed several men, to include Colonel Smith, Colonel Anthony J. Touart, Commanding Officer of the 414th Infantry Regiment, Lieutenant Colonel Joseph H. Cummins, Commanding Officer of the 2nd Battalion, the battalion’s S-3 and one of its captains. Eleven others were wounded, including the Commanding Officer of the regiment’s 3rd Battalion. “It was a queer turn in the fortunes of the war,” the 18th Regiment record noted at the time, “that after leading us through four campaigns including the assault on Omaha Beach and the intense Aachen and Hurtgen fighting that Colonel Smith was killed in action during the first week of his new assignment.”[7]

Colonel Smith is buried in Henri-Chapelle American Cemetery and Memorial, in Hombourg, Belgium.

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Association of Graduates United States Military Academy, “Assembly Register of Graduates and Former Cadets 1977 , Associate of Graduates USMA, March 1977, p. 138
  2. 2.0 2.1 Association of Graduates United States Military Academy, “Assembly Register of Graduates and Former Cadets 1977 , Associate of Graduates USMA, March 1977, p. 137
  3. Association of Graduates United States Military Academy, “Assembly Register of Graduates and Former Cadets 1977 , Associate of Graduates USMA, March 1977, p. 137
  4. Personal letter from Major General Terry Allen to Jean Smith, March 27, 1945
  5. George A. Smith, Jr. letter to his wife, Jean, June 21, 1944
  6. Astor, Gerald Terrible Terry Allen, Combat General of World War II – The Life of an American Soldier Ballentine Publishing Group, 2003, p. 305-306
  7. Baumer, Robert and Reardon, Mark J., 18th Regiment Book American Iliad, The 18th Infantry Regiment in World War II Aberjona Press, 2004, p. 336


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