Roy Smith, a resident at Life Care Center of Grandview, Missouri, is an American hero.
Born in Kansas City, Missouri, on March 11, 1926, Smith was a high school student studying to become an auto mechanic when he enlisted in the Marines to serve in World War II.
Smith was only 17 years only and had to get his parents’ consent before he could enlist. It took him from March to July of 1943 to convince his mother to sign, but he explained that if he turned 18, he would likely be drafted into the Army, and he wanted to be a Marine. He also explained that his father would likely be drafted too, and as it turned out, his father was indeed drafted but didn’t have to go to war because Smith had already enlisted.
When Smith was asked what drew him to the Marines, he said, “I guess I just had it in my blood. In the neighborhood where I grew up, we had about five gangs, and we would meet at the park and have fights. I just had it in my mind that with what the Japanese did to Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, I made up my mind I would get every Japanese I could.”
Smith attended basic training at the Marine base in San Diego, California, the first time he had been out of Kansas City. After a few days’ leave back home, he returned to California and was placed in a composite platoon and assigned a role as a mail carrier. Soon, however, he and several others from his group were placed in the First Guard Company and stayed on the base almost a year. Being only 17, Smith wasn’t allowed to go overseas at first.
Camp Elliot in San Diego was Smith’s next stop as he prepared for jungle fighting in the South Pacific. He was attached to the infantry of the 3rd Marine Division and shipped out to Guam.
It was Smith’s 18th birthday when his division landed on Guam. He served with the 21st Regiment as it invaded and pushed back the Japanese fighters, gaining ground on the island slowly over three months. The Japanese would hole up in caves.
Smith was on patrol once when his group was ambushed, and he wasn’t sure he was going to make it out alive. Thankfully, he did.
While he was in Guam, Smith faced a challenge he didn’t expect. One day he used a barrel of rain water to wash his face and didn’t think anything of it. When he went off on patrol, he went blind. It was found that the water had been rusty, and fine metal fragments had gotten into his eyes. For several hours, Smith was strapped tightly to a chair while a doctor used tweezers to remove the particles from his eyes. He almost lost his eyesight permanently.
After the capture of Guam, Smith and his fellow Marines headed to Iwo Jima, where Smith spent his 19th birthday. They landed and gathered at the foot of Mount Suribachi, a 500-foot-high volcano. Although Smith’s group was supposed to be on reserve, the Japanese were so well equipped that the men were needed and brought into active service immediately.
It was a difficult fight. The Japanese shot down at the Americans from the top of the mountain. Smith and three other Marines were assigned to a demolition and flame thrower, Hershall Woody Williams, and as Williams went to throw charges into the Japanese concrete bunkers, the four Marines provided cover for him. Williams survived the war and was honored to do the coin toss for the 2018 Super Bowl.
Smith wasn’t sure he was going to make it home. In fact, he wrote a letter to his girlfriend back home telling her not to wait for him to return.
Despite Smith’s fears, however, he survived.
“God was sitting right on my shoulder,” he said.
Smith didn’t make it out unscarred, however. He took shrapnel to his right arm during battle, and a medic had to remove it right in the middle of the fighting in the field. He was then taken to a hospital ship for four days to recover.
After the war, Smith was offered a Purple Heart Award but turned it down because he felt that those he served with had been through much more than he had. More than half of his regiment had been killed, while others were missing limbs.
Smith returned home to Kansas City after the war and started working on bridges for the Burlington Railroad. He found out that his girlfriend had taken his advice to not wait and had married someone else.
This didn’t spell the end of romance for Smith. He met Sylvia Pauline in 1946 and married her in June 1948. They had three boys and one girl and were married for 57 years before she passed away.
Smith looks back with pride on what he and his fellow Marines accomplished in the war. He has an Asiatic-Pacific Combat Medal, as well as a Presidential Unit Citation and campaign ribbons.
“Roy is one of the most humble men I have met,” said Rhonda Martin, regional director of clinical services. “He certainly has a story to share, and he doesn’t make it about him. It revolves around the men who served with him, the men who gave their lives.
“He treats the staff and other residents with true respect and seems to watch out for others,” Martin added. “He is a true man of dignity and honor.”
Author’s note: Sadly, Smith passed away on June 16, 2018. We are privileged to share his story as a legacy he can leave to following generations.