It took 68 years, but Harold Smith finally got the medals awarded to him for service in the U.S. Army in World War II.
Surrounded by family, friends and fellow veterans at the Varnell House, Smith said it was worth the wait.
The staff of U.S. Rep. Tom Graves, R-Ranger, helped track down the awards, and Graves came from Washington, D.C. to present them to Smith.
“As a congressman, I get to do a lot of fascinating things, a lot of neat things, some difficult things,” he said. “But there’s nothing I enjoy more than the opportunity to recognize one of America’s heroes, and we have one here today, a soldier, a warrior who has some recognitions that are long, long overdue.”
Graves presented Smith, 89, with the World War II Victory Medal, the Good Conduct Medal, the European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with bronze star attachment, the Honorable Service for World War II lapel button and the Sharpshooter Badge with Rifle Bar.
“On behalf of the House of Representatives and the 14th Congressional District, it is my pleasure to present these to you, to send these home to display in honor of your service to this country and your place in this nation’s history,” Graves said.
An American Legion Honor Guard led Smith into the assembly room at the Varnell House, which is also the city’s community center, and saluted him before the presentation of the awards.
“He’s not just a fellow veteran, he’s a World War II veteran,” said American Legion member Leo Whaley. “There are fewer of them everyday, and it’s important to us to show how much we respect them and what they did.”
Smith was born in Murray County, one of seven siblings, and grew up on a farm near Chatsworth. He was drafted in 1943 and had a choice of joining the Army or the Navy. Family members say he chose the Army because he did not want to get on a submarine.
He left for basic training one week before his high school graduation, and his mother picked up his diploma. After graduating from basic training at Fort Stewart, Smith was sent to Europe and saw combat across the continent, including the Battle of the Bulge. He now lives just outside of Varnell.
Family members say he spoke little of his accomplishments.
“He has probably told me more about his tour of duty this year than the past 60-something years combined,” his brother Hoyt said.
Smith’s son Mike said he thinks that is typical of World War II veterans.
“My dad was probably like a lot of those guys. He came back and went to work, then he met my mom and got married and started a family,” he said. “They were focused on those things, not what they’d done.”
Earlier this year, Smith’s son-in-law, Bobby Wilson, approached the local Veterans Services office about finding out what awards he had earned. That kicked off the process, which led to Graves office getting involved and tracking down the awards citations.
“He really spearheaded this and helped get Congressman Graves here,” said Karen Wilson, Smith’s daughter.
“When we got back the list of awards and medals he’d won, he said, ‘I bet you didn’t know I was a hero,’” said Mike. “He was always a hero to me.”
Smith’s daughter Karen agreed.
“We are proud of our father,” she said. “We’ve always been proud of him, and I’m glad to see that so many other people are proud of what he did.”