Estimated reading time: 12 minutes
“William Arthur Smith, His Military Life & Purple Heart” is a new installment series, revealing a New Found Line for Stray Leaves. Written by Dennis Smith, a first cousin of Frank & Jesse James, Dennis traces his ancestry in personal family stories through each generation. He reaches back to his ancestors Anthony Lindsay III & Ailsey Cole, Richard James Cole & Anne Hubbard, and Anthony Lindsay Jr. & Rachel Ann Dorsey. The series culminates in the story of the author’s cousin Dr. James V. Scruggs, the doctor and family relative who was the first to arrive on the bloody scene of the Pinkerton Agency raid on James Farm in 1875.
by Dennis Smith, his son
Arthur “Art” Smith had already dropped out of school prior to his marriage to Lois Roberta Roberts. He worked at various jobs to support his new family. That included working for his father Stanley D. Smith, parking cars. Stanley managed a parking garage in Indianapolis, Indiana.
Art and Lois R. Smith were now living with Nellie Roberts, his mother-in-law, on the east side of Indianapolis, in a half of a double at 251 S. Gray St. Nellie Roberts was paying most if not all of the bills. My brother, Randall Robert Smith, was born there on March 23, 1947.
Art Smith and George Thayer, a first cousin of Lois, decided that they would enlist into the U.S. Army, together in September of 1948. According to military records, they entered the U.S. Army in Madison, Indiana.
George Thayer related that they left for basic training from Indiana to Fort Lewis in the State of Washington. On the train ride to Fort Lewis, Art and George visited one of the stores at a train stop and they took some candy without paying for it. They were caught and the U.S. Army had to pay for the candy. Art and George were not allowed off the train at any other stops.
While at Fort Lewis, Art and George decided to go into the Airborne together, but George got injured in basic training. Art was transferred to the 82nd Airborne in Fort Bragg, North Carolina after basic training. George stayed at Fort Lewis. During this time, Art received Airborne training, even though George related later they had to push Art out of the airplane every time they took him up to jump.
In 1949, the 82nd Airborne had the rare opportunity of going to Philadelphia for a parade. President Truman visited the parade and Art was one of the guards along the president’s parade route. Art’s photo was in the newspaper together with Harry Truman that year.
While at Fort Bragg, Art missed his wife Lois and son Randy. He had them come and live with him on the base. Lois related that Art did not make enough money as a private to take care of the family. She said Art ate in the mess hall. All she had to eat one night was a candy bar. She wrote her mother for a train ticket home. Her mother, Nellie Roberts, sent the ticket.
Art Smith had been friends with Chuck Hughes since he was a teenager in the Westside of Indianapolis. Chuck Hughes and two other unknown friends had come to Fort Bragg to visit Art about the same time Lois was preparing to return to Indianapolis. They had driven down in an old car. They were running low on gas money. Art, Chuck Hughes, and their friends talked Lois into cashing in the train ticket her mother sent her, and use it instead for gas money. Lois and son Randy drove back with Chuck Hughes back to Indianapolis. Art stayed at Fort Bragg. This was in the late summer of 1949.
On the drive back, Lois related she had used an outhouse at a rest stop where she was attacked by a rooster. Blood was running down her leg where the rooster had spurred her. Chuck Hughes knocked the chicken out with a dirt clod. The farmer who owned the rooster was upset because it was his fighting rooster. They high-tailed it from the rest stop.
By late 1949, Lois was back in Indianapolis. She lived with her mother Nellie at 316 S. Gray St. on the east side. Lois was pregnant again. Art no longer wanted to be in the U.S. Army. He asked Lois to get him out on a “hardship discharge,” because he had a wife, son and a baby on the way. Lois went to the Red Cross in early 1950 and the Red Cross got Art Smith out of the Army by the Spring of that year.
Art’s Father, Stanley D. Smith drove Lois to the hospital in an old pickup truck, on the day I was born. Stanley drove a little faster every time Lois had a labor pain. After I was born, Art and Nellie Roberts were in the living room at 316 S. Gray St., where they gave me the name of Dennis Smith. My grandfather Stanley always kept a good relationship with his grandson’s.
To explain in one word, the marriage of Art and Lois turned “volatile”. They fought the whole time. Lois threw a bottle at Art as he was walking away from her and hit him in the back. Art, Lois, sons Randy and me continued living with grandmother Nellie in the small two bedroom house on Gray Street.
Art was working in Auto Body Repair but he went out for cigarettes and a newspaper one day. He never returned. Nellie Roberts who was making less than $20.00 a week took care of her daughter Lois with grandsons Randy Smith and me while paying all the bills. There was no welfare in Indiana at that time.
My mother Lois searched Indianapolis for Art. She found him on the Westside, lying on a couch with a blond girl that looked like the actress “Doris Day”. She asked him to return home but he refused.
Lois then went to the Red Cross to see what they could do to help with her financial situation. They could not help her but they were upset that Art Smith was not living with his family and informed the U.S. Army. Lois R. Smith then consulted with an attorney and filed for divorce and support in June/July 1950, her only recourse. In June 1950, the United States went to War with Korea. On 22 Sept 1950, the divorce of Arthur William Smith and Lois Roberta Smith was final, with custody and child support of Randall R. Smith and me, Dennis Smith, going to our mother.
Lois R. Smith then consulted with an attorney and filed for divorce and support in June/July 1950, her only recourse. In June 1950, the United States went to War with Korea. On 22 Sept 1950, the divorce of Arthur William Smith and Lois Roberta Smith was final, with custody and child support of Randall R. Smith and me, Dennis Smith, going to our mother.
On 25 Sept 1950, the U.S. Army sent Arthur William Smith to Fort Hood, Texas. By Oct 1950, Arthur William Smith was on his way to the Korean conflict. He had requested to be returned to the 82nd Airborne at Fort Bragg. The U.S. Army refused his request. Arthur William Smith was sent to the front lines of the Korean War.
Art was sent on patrols and guard duty. One time he was disconnected from his company and he found himself in the midst of North Koreans and Chinese. He covered himself with dead bodies to evade capture. Then on Jan 7, 1951, Arthur W. Smith received the Bronze Star. The U.S. Army had Art’s service record number incorrect in this order. He never received or knew of his Bronze Star. An attempt to get this corrected has been filled with an Indiana Senator.
Art sent a letter to his mother. Nine days later, Arthur W. Smith received the Purple Heart, for getting wounded in the buttocks from friendly fire. Korea had the worst winter in history with the temperature going 30 below zero at night. Geneva Curry Smith in Madison, Indiana telling her “he doesn’t expect to survive”, he has body lice, his feet are frozen and his friends are dying around him. An army colonel had taken their blankets away because he thought they had it too soft. By Jan. 22, 1951, Art was in a hospital in Osaka, Japan.
After his somewhat physical recovery, Art Smith was assigned to Osaka, Japan as a pay clerk until March/May 1951. Then he was sent to Wake Island to work as a clerk. They did not send him back to the front line because of his prior military service and the short time left in his enlistment. Art finally was discharged on Nov. 10, 1951 in Camp Carson, Colorado.
My grandfather Stanley was living at 1330 Naomi St. in Indianapolis in 1951, with his wife Laura Smith and stepdaughter Myrtle Woolford. When Art got out of the Army he lived with his father, stepmother, and stepsister. Art had post-traumatic stress, from his experience in the war. He was hard to wake up. Stanley had to throw a glass of water on him and run. Art would always come up fighting.
Art’s drinking increased. He was a bartender in several rough and seedy bars, one being “Blake’s Tavern.” Once, he claimed he played cards in the back room after closing with “Elvis Presley,” This could not be confirmed. It was possible, though, since the owner of Blake’s was an entertainment promoter.
Art started racing motorcycles and stock cars. He raced stock cars at the old “Art Zipps” or now Speed Drome on Kitley Road. He married a second time to Margie Louise Moore on Sept. 2, 1956. The marriage soon ended in divorce. It is said that she tried to shoot Art.
Art’s drinking led him to have a stroke before he was 30. The stroke left one side of his face paralyzed for a while.
He dated several women until he met Lorene Kellams Sodrell, who had a young son. He married Lorene on Aug. 31, 1958.
He remained married to her until his death in 2009. Art helped raise her son but he remained estranged to his own son’s his entire life. He rarely paid any child support for me and Randy. This put a huge strain on grandmother Nellie Roberts who mostly raised us. She never complained.
It is believed Art blamed Lois for his return to the Army and for his being sent to Korea. It is believed this resentment was directed against his sons, too. The casualties of War extend far beyond the battlefield.
Art deserved his Purple Heart and Bronze Star, but he would not have been in Korea if he had just stayed home and taken care of his family.
SMITH FAMILY TODAY
Arthur William Smith was born Nov. 15, 1928, in Switzerland County, Indiana.
On Aug. 31, 1946, Arthur William Smith married Lois Roberta Roberts, in Indianapolis, Indiana. Arthur was 17 years old and Lois was 16 years old. Lois was pregnant with Randall Robert Smith. They were living on the westside of Indianapolis, Indiana.
Arthur W. Smith was the son of Stanley D. Smith and Geneva Curry Smith. Stanley divorced Geneva in 1940. Stanley remarried to Laura B. Woolford. They lived in Indianapolis. Geneva later remarried to Edgar Fredenburgh. They lived in Madison, Indiana. Arthur’s sister Elizabeth A. Smith lived with Geneva Curry Smith Fredenburgh.
Lois Roberta Roberts-Smith’s mother was Nellie Plummer-Roberts. She had married John D. Roberts but John Roberts left her and Lois Roberta Roberts in 1941 in Indianapolis, Indiana. Lois’ father moved to Mississippi to train troops for WWII, where he married another woman.
Nellie P. Roberts never remarried.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR, DENNIS SMITH
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