Woodrow Wilson Smith
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West Virginia Veterans Memorial


Woodrow Wilson Smith

"War is a grim, cruel business, a business justified only as a means of sustaining the forces of good against those of evil."

General Dwight D. Eisenhower

Woodrow Wilson Smith was born at Shenandoah Junction, Berkeley County, West Virginia, to parents Henry Clay Smith and Lillian Smith. It is unclear whether he was born in 1913 or 1914, but he was born on June 1. Find A Grave and Young American Patriots give his birth year as 1914, while his draft registration card and U.S. Army Enlistment Records, 1938-1946, list 1913. Because he completed the draft registration form in his own handwriting, 1913 would appear to be the more reliable date. The 1920 Federal Census shows the family to be living in Ranson in Jefferson County, with daughter Pearl and sons Earl, Woodrow, James, and Marion. Listed as the same age, Earl and Pearl were apparently twins. Woodrow spent his early years entirely in the area of the Eastern Panhandle. The 1940 census shows Woodrow to be head of a household that includes his wife Etta Virginia Willard Smith and his stepdaughter Betty, along with his wife's parents. His occupation, according to the census was "odd jobs." The entry for Woodrow Wilson Smith, Berkeley County, in Young American Patriots notes that he attended Shenandoah Junction School, where he received his grammar school education. He was a Methodist. When he registered for the draft in 1940, he stated that he was employed by his father, and his enlistment record indicates his civilian occupation was that of "farm hand."

On June 12, 1942, Woodrow W. Smith enlisted in the U.S. Army at Fort Hayes, Columbus, Ohio. He was headed toward service with Company F, 314th Infantry Regiment, 79th Infantry Division. The Fox Company Enlisted Men's Roster dated June 30, 1942, shows him to be among the company's original members upon activation at Camp Pickett, Virginia. According to Young American Patriots, his training included a stint at Camp Blanding, Florida. Ultimately, the Division would end up in England, with France as a destination after the invasion at Normandy. By January of 1945, Woodrow Wilson Smith had attained the rank of sergeant. The Division was on the march through the north central part of France heading for a crossing of the Rhine.

According to a combat chronicle of the Division,

The division was activated at Camp Pickett, Virginia on 15 June 1942. It participated in the Tennessee Maneuver Area, after which it moved to Camp Laguna near Yuma, Arizona, where it trained in the desert. It was then ordered to Camp Phillips, Kansas for training in winter conditions. At the beginning of April 1944, the division reported to the Port of Embarkation at Camp Myles Standish, Massachusetts.

The division arrived in Liverpool on 17 April and began training in amphibious operations. After training in the United Kingdom from 17 April 1944, the 79th Infantry Division landed on Utah Beach, Normandy, 12-14 June and entered combat 19 June 1944, with an attack on the high ground west and northwest of Valognes and high ground south of Cherbourg. The division took Fort du Roule after a heavy engagement and entered Cherbourg, 25 June. . . . [It was on the occasion of fighting for Fort du Roule that the heroic actions] of Corporal John D. Kelly and First Lieutenant Carlos C. Ogden, both of the 314th Infantry Regiment, were awarded the Medal of Honor. It held a defensive line at the Ollonde River until 2 July 1944 and then returned to the offensive, taking La Haye du Puits in house-to-house fighting, 8 July. On 26 July, the 79th attacked across the Ay River, took Lessay, crossed the Sarthe River and entered Le Mans, 8 August, meeting only light resistance. The advance continued across the Seine, 19 August. Heavy German counterattacks were repelled, 22-27 August, and the division reached the Therain River, 31 August. Moving swiftly to the Franco-Belgian frontier near St. Amand (east of Lille), the division was then moved to XV Corps in eastern France, where it encountered heavy resistance in taking Charmes in street fighting, 12 September. The 79th cut across the Moselle and Meurthe Rivers, 13-23 September, cleared the Foret de Parroy in a severe engagement, 28 September - 9 October, and attacked to gain high ground east of Embermenil, 14-23 October, when it was relieved, 24 October.

After rest and training at Luneville, the division returned to combat with an attack from the Mignevine-Montiguy area, 13 November 1944, which carried it across the Vezouse and Moder Rivers, 18 November - 10 December, through Haguenau in spite of determined enemy resistance, and into the Siegfried Line, 17-20 December. The division held a defensive line along the Lauter River, at Wissembourg from 20 December 1944 until 2 January 1945, when it withdrew to Maginot Line defenses. The German attempt to establish a bridgehead west of the Rhine at Gambsheim resulted in furious fighting. The 79th beat off German attacks at Hatten and Rittershoffen in an 11-day battle before withdrawing to new defensive positions south of Haguenau on the Moder River, 19 January 1945. The division remained on the defensive along the Moder until 6 February 1945. During February and March 1945, the division mopped up German resistance, returned to offensive combat, 24 March 1945, crossed the Rhine, drove across the Rhine-Herne Canal, 7 April, secured the north bank of the Ruhr and took part in clearing the Ruhr Pocket until 13 April. The division then went on occupation duty, in the Dortmund, Sudetenland, and Bavarian areas successively, until its return to the United States and inactivation. ("79th Infantry Division [United States]," Wikipedia, last edited 6 February 2021, accessed 26 February 2021, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/79th_Infantry_Division_(United_States).)

The morning report for Fox Company of January 18, 1945, indicates that Sgt. Woodrow Smith's status was changed from seriously wounded in action (SWA) to died of wounds (DOW) on January 3, 1945. It appears the wounds were incurred during the time the Division was holding "a defensive line along the Lauter River, at Wissembourg from 20 December 1944 to 2 January 1945, when it withdrew to Maginot Line defenses."

Sgt. Smith is interred in the Epinal American Cemetery in Vosges, France, Plot B, Row 36, Grave 4. The American Battle Monuments entry indicates Sgt. Smith as having been awarded the Purple Heart and the World War II Victory Medal. It is not insignificant to note that Sgt. Smith had been awarded the Combat Infantry Badge (CIB) along with many others of Company F pursuant to 314th General Order Number 4, Paragraph 15, dated August 12, 1944. Sgt. Smith, like many other infantrymen later became eligible for award of the Bronze Star based on having been awarded the CIB. Sgt. Smith's service indicates he may also be eligible for award of the American Campaign Medal and the European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal. While such recognition is deserved, application for those awards must be pursued by a next-of-kin.
In Epinal American Cemetery, a cross denotes the grave of Sgt. Woodrow W. Smith. <i>Find A Grave</i> photo courtesy Dwight Anderson

In Epinal American Cemetery, a cross denotes the grave of Sgt. Woodrow W. Smith. Find A Grave photo courtesy Dwight Anderson

Article prepared by Patricia Richards McClure, who gratefully acknowledges the assistance of Jim Biggs, whose father was in the same unit as Sgt. Smith
July 2021


Woodrow Wilson Smith

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