Posted on March 4, 2021
by Joe Pappalardo
Inferno tells the true story of the boys who flew the deadliest missions of World Struggle II, and Maynard Harrison Smith, an unlikely hero who obtained the Medal of Honor within the midst of the bloodiest army marketing campaign in aviation historical past. Learn an excerpt beneath.
Sergeant Maynard H. Smith, a B-17 Flying Fortress gunner, receiving the Medal of Honor from United States Secretary of Struggle Henry L. Stimson.
This picture is within the public area through Wikicommons.
July 12, 2019.
There are three steamer trunks within the spare bed room of Maynard Smith Jr.’s dwelling in Seminole, Florida. Contained in the packing containers are the artifacts from the lifetime of his father, a World Struggle II veteran, B-17 gunner, and the primary enlisted Military airman ever to obtain the Congressional Medal of Honor.
Maynard Harrison Smith Sr. lived along with his son and daughter-in-law in Florida throughout his last years, and these trunks comprise the keepsakes that he left behind when he died in 1984. Nobody’s opened them in many years.
At age seventy-two, Smith Jr. stays a big man. Today he’s connected to an oxygen line, and trails a slender, inexperienced umbilical hose when he strikes round the home. He’s a Vietnam veteran; his father used his connections in Washington, D.C., to bump his son to the entrance of the two-year Coast Guard recruitment checklist, saving him from being drafted into the Military. Smith Jr. ended up in fight anyway, serving as a 5-inch gunner on the 254-foot cutter Winona.
Coast Guard cutters supplied hearth help for males on shore and escorted swift boats; Smith Jr. volunteered to trip on these small crafts on a number of missions, one in every of which ended with a splash again to the ship along with his finger plugging a gunny sergeant’s bullet gap. The youthful Smith additionally ran the nightly, onboard poker sport and as such was flush with cash. He’s happy with his service, however actually didn’t wish to go: “I mentioned to myself, I can’t run off to Canada, not with the daddy I bought.”
The daddy and son lived collectively, ran a publishing enterprise, and shot pool at halls throughout the nation. Over their lifetimes they backed one another up in bar fights and attended presidential inaugurations. They usually hunted and fished.
“I used to be speaking with my dad one time in a area, and this pheasant got here up flying alongside the wooden line,” Smith Jr. recollects. “He adopted it and popped it off. He mentioned that he discovered the best way to comply with birds and stuff like that due to his coaching on the .50 caliber. ? It’s a must to lead the airplane.”
Solely a faint echo of the elder Maynard Smith can nonetheless be felt within the dwelling, a pleasing, roomy one-story home with a screened-in pool simply outdoors of Tampa. There are photographs of Smith Sr. and some objects on show that carry his stamp, just like the mannequin of a wood boat in the lounge bearing one in every of his nicknames, “Snuffy.”
However open a steamer trunk and Smith Sr. himself erupts from inside, saying his arrival with a flurry of yellowed newspaper clippings, light photographs, army paperwork, Christmas playing cards, and applications from numerous army appreciation occasions and reunions. His son pulls out these recollections by the handful.
Right here’s a photograph of Smith Sr. shaking palms with President John Kennedy, who towers over him. Right here’s a information clipping that includes Smith on the elbow of the governor of Michigan in 1945. Listed here are his honorable discharge papers from the Military Air Forces; he’s a non-public, having been demoted after receiving the Medal of Honor. Right here’s a program from a Medal of Honor Society occasion in Hawaii within the early Nineteen Eighties, with a girl’s identify and resort room quantity scrawled on one web page. Right here’s a postcard to his mom written from aerial gunnery faculty in Texas, early in his wartime army profession, and beneath it a cryptic picture from an oasis in North Africa, with a handwritten notation saying “MY QUARTERS” with an arrow pointing to a hilltop constructing on the horizon.
Maynard Smith Jr. pulls extra of his father’s recollections from the steamer trunks, spreading the fragments throughout the floor of the mattress. The ghostly type of a person emerges: a proud veteran, an acknowledged hero, a newspaper writer. Nearer examination reveals best hits of the extra intimate variety: a love letter from a wartime girlfriend, a photograph of him on a cruise in 1977 sporting an absurd hat with one arm flung over the shoulder of a comely older girl (not Junior’s mom, he’s not stunned to see), and a black-and-white picture of Smith in 1945 leaning in shut to make use of a younger girl’s collarbone to signal an autograph.
“Dad,” his son says drily, “had the status of being properly endowed.”
Some members of Maynard Smith Sr.’s rapid household, together with a son and daughter from earlier marriages, stopped chatting with him. One in all his three sons died of an overdose earlier than his father handed, the opposite grew to become misplaced in drug abuse and died simply 5 years after his father. Maynard Sr.’s different daughter loved her paternal relationship, however she and her mom had the stronger bond and lived collectively in Hawaii and Florida after the couple divorced. However Maynard Smith and his namesake stayed shut till the top.
In late April 1984, the elder Maynard Smith staggered into the kitchen, gasping phrases however garbling them badly. “Oak, oak, oak,” he lastly managed. Handled for a stroke, docs found his coronary heart was additionally failing. After a grueling month within the hospital, he was gone.
“He was not the kind of man who would hearken to docs,” says Debby Wolfsmith, Maynard Smith Jr.’s spouse. “He wasn’t going to cease placing salt on his watermelon. He wasn’t good at maintaining with medicines, both.”
Trying over the contents of the three steamer trunks, it’s clear that Maynard Smith Sr. curated this assortment of memorabilia, deliberately or not, to be the idealized model of his life. The information clippings paint the portrait of a devoted son, a conflict hero, and a profitable writer with the ear of essential folks.
The optimistic media protection is in depth, however Smith left the destructive press out of his private archives. There are articles describing lawsuits towards him, tangles with the Meals and Drug Administration over a male enhancement cream, and an arrest for submitting a false police report for his function in a really public hoax in 1952. There are a selection of columnists, native and nationwide, taking potshots at his character.
Probably the most well-known detractor is Andy Rooney, who calls Smith Sr. “a fuck up” in his World Struggle II memoirs, My Struggle. The tv columnist, with Stars and Stripes throughout World Struggle II, is probably the most answerable for each creating and denigrating Smith’s public picture. The 2 quick, opinionated males loved bucking authority—perhaps that they had an excessive amount of in widespread to get alongside.
Others supply combined reactions to his identify, even thirty-five years after his loss of life. A public affairs worker on the Medal of Honor Society remembers Smith as “a crackpot” and “somebody who wasn’t shy about placing folks of their place.” Caroline Sheen, the veteran picture and artwork editor of Air & Area Smithsonian journal, instantly dubs him “probably the most despised man to get the Medal of Honor.” His brother-in-law, George Rayner, recollects him as “a wheeler vendor” and provides, not unkindly, that “he was loopy.” His daughter Christine speaks of his eager intelligence however notes of his love life that “he didn’t go away many unbroken hearts behind him.”
Maynard Smith Jr. sums it up by saying, “He was a insurgent, I assume you’d say.”
Maynard Smith’s character produced numerous nicknames. The one which endures is “Snuffy Smith,” after a brief, irascible cartoon character. In an odd form of immortality, this moniker is enshrined within the trendy Air Power lexicon. It’s not used as usually lately however the 2019 on-line City Dictionary contains this entry:
Airman Snuffy: Hypothetical alias of an enlisted individual within the U.S. Air Power who can’t appear to do something proper. Used ceaselessly in Air Power officer coaching texts and case research, Airman Snuffy is analogous to the U.S. Marine Corps’ Gomer Pyle.
Struggle dehumanizes folks, and never at all times within the anticipated methods. In World Struggle II, the U.S. army and information media partnered to fabricate heroes that might be used and discarded like some other piece of common situation gear. Smith’s unlikely expertise is a main instance of this public relations machine in motion, and its unintended penalties. Smith encountered harrowing violence, the anticipated root of wartime psychological trauma, however he additionally suffered the stranger destiny of being diminished to a public caricature.
So this isn’t a ebook concerning the Struggle Division’s hero, “Snuffy Smith.” This can be a ebook about Maynard Harrison Smith Sr. and his wild trip by means of cataclysmic historical past.
Joe Pappalardo is the creator of the critically acclaimed books Sunflowers: The Secret Historical past of Sunflowers (2008) and Spaceport Earth: The Reinvention of Spaceflight (2017). Pappalardo is a author and former affiliate editor of Air & Area Smithsonian journal and a former senior editor and present contributing editor at In style Mechanics. He has additionally appeared on the tv exhibits What on Earth? and Unusual Proof on the Science Channel and Roswell: First Witness and Chuck Norris’ Epic Information to Navy Automobiles on the Historical past Channel.
Tags: airborne, Inferno, Joe Pappalardo, World Struggle II