Robert Franklin Smith, Military and Family - My Dad's Story
Robert Franklin Smith
Robert Franklin Smith was born in Bridgewater, MA, July 10, 1923, the son of Malcolm Leroy Smith and Mary Ann Pierce. On December 7, 1941 about 7:55 AM, the Japanese attacked Peal Harbor in Hawaii. It was sometime after the United States declared war on December 8, 1941, that Bob, like so many other young men, left school to enlist in the military. At the age of 18, Robert was described as having brown hair, hazel eyes and light complexion. He tried to enlist in the Navy; but did not meet the height requirements, so Bob joined the Massachusetts State Guard, 78th Company. As the war progressed more men were needed. At the age of 19, Private Robert F. Smith, on September 17, 1942, was discharged from the Guard and was enlisted for active duty in the U.S. Navy.
He was stationed at the new Banana River Naval Air Station in Cocoa Beach, Florida. In 1948 this base became Patrick Air Force Base. Shortly after Bob's arrival he met his future wife, Elsie Louise Roesch, at a local dance hall where her mother was one of the chaperones for the evening. They married on April 22, 1943 after dating for six months.
Their first child, a daughter, was born September 7, 1944. In February of 1945 the Navy sent Bob, known as Smitty to his buddies, to Oak Harbor, Washington. His wife and daughter traveled with him. Six months later they were off to Seaside, Oregon. Several months later, he was assigned to National City, California.
His next port was China. The military advised Elsie that it would not be a safe place for them so they returned home to Florida to wait. Bob was on the U.S.S. LST 9 (Landing Ship Tank), which is an amphibious vessel designed to unload tanks, troops and supplies. Robert F. Smith held the rank of Damage Controlman First Class (Carpenter).
While passing by Okinawa on its way to China, some Japanese, who didn't know the war was over, fired upon the ship. In January 1946, the ship pulled into port at the Whangpoo River in Shanghai, China, which flows into the Yangtze River. Bob was assigned to build stables on the American ship for Chiang Kai-shek so he could transport his horses. This was during the pre-communist era when the U.S. supported General Chiang against the Communist's People's Liberation Army led by Mao Zedong in the civil war for control of China. The communist party did assume control after two decades of war and the People's Republic of China was established on October 1, 1949.
Bob sadly recalled, "Baby girls in China during this period were not valued, and were thrown into the Yangtze River to drown. It was horrible seeing dead babies floating the water." Bob called his wife and told her what was happening and that there was this baby girl he wanted to adopt. Elsie agreed, but the military wouldn't allow it.
In 1947, Bob was sent to England for a year. His wife and daughter joined him there in Plymouth, England. Bob was discharged in 1948 after five years 11 months and 26 days of service. He and his family moved to his hometown in Massachusetts. He obtained a job working nights at George O. Jenkins Co., a leather mill, and he joined the Reserves.
On December 19, 1950, Bob was called back into active service and assisigned to the ship, USS Proserpine, ARL 21, for one final tour of active duty during the Korean War. He was discharged on December 18, 1954 as Damage Controlman First Class/Carpenter. He had now completed 8 honorable years of service in the Navy.
Bob and Elsie had four daughters: Kathryn Marie, Sharon Eloise, Janine Lovina and Robin Doreen. Bob retired from the leather mill holding the position of General Manager. He quietly passed away on the first day of spring, March 20, 2008 with his wife and family by his side.