By Jil Launay
Gordon K. Smith was my father…
Gordon K. Smith joined the United States Army in 1938. As a 2nd Lieutenant, he was sent to Fort Benning, GA and assigned to the 501st Parachute Battalion Company C on December 13,1940. His first jump was on January 17,1941.
After tours in Alaska and Panama, Smith was chosen along with 12 other officers to be designated to one of the seven new regiments formed. Now a Captain, he was assigned to the 507th Parachute Infantry Regiment and promoted to Major.
In December 1943, Smith was sent to Ireland and then England. On D-Day, June 6, 1944, he jumped into Normandy, France. His intended drop zone was located in Amfreville. Since Smith was the Jumpmaster on his load he wanted to get his men out first because they were under such heavy fire. He ended up jumping near Fresville and landed by the train station there.
He began to make his way back towards his objective in Amfreville and met up with soldiers from other regiments. As they were making their way up a small hill through an apple orchard, the Germans opened fire on them. Smith was hit in the lower back by a bullet that then lodged in his wrist.
Being the ranking officer, he told the others to leave him behind. The Germans soon picked him up and took him in a horse drawn cart to an aide station in Goubersville. There he underwent surgery performed by a German doctor.
When he woke, a German soldier was sitting by him with his rifle between his knees. The doctor told Smith that this soldier had brought him, “gruel, red wine and cigarettes.” The doctor also told him that this particular soldier was the one who shot him. As it turned out, the soldier was a Russian who had been conscripted into the German Army. He came every day to speak with Smith and guard him till they moved him to the hospital in Rennes, France.
In September of 1944 Smith was moved to Poland and found his commander there, Colonel Millet. They are evacuated January 21, 1945 as the Russians approached. Many U.S. officers perished on this grueling march. They are put on a train January 26, and arrived in Stettin, Germany on January 30, 1945.
On the journey, Smith and four prisoners were designated to leave the train to find food and water. A German sergeant accompanied them, and while they are gone, the train departs and they are unable to get back on. They are stranded with the German soldier and had no weapons.
On February 1, 1945, they boarded a train for Berlin. Another German offered Smith a seat on the train after he learned Smith was a Major in the Parachute Infantry. The German sergeant took the small group of Americans to his aunt’s home where they were welcomed. Due to lack of room, the sergeant, Smith and another had to go to the home of the sergeant’s brother, which was not a friendly reception.
During their stay, Berlin VIPs unexpectedly came to the house for dinner and an air raid siren went off that evening, signaling the first very damaging air raid on Berlin. The group left the house and once they got the all clear, the sergeant, Smith and the others went to the train station. Berlin was heavily damaged, including the Reichstag. They then boarded a train for the Stalag IIIA POW camp in Luckenwald.
On May 5, 1945, the guards deserted the camp and Smith, along with two Norwegians, three French and a few Americans, walked out the front door. They crossed the Elbe, met the Russians and eventually were allowed to rejoin the Americans.