Being a member of the military means being away from family members and those you love on holidays and special occasions. It goes with the job.
Modern communications advances have helped bridge the distances, especially at times like Mother’s Day, when a serviceman or woman wants to let Mom know that she’s still on their mind at this special time.
During World War II, those technological advances weren’t available, and with telephone service in East Tennessee still a luxury for many in that day, there was only one way for a Carter County soldier stationed in Colorado to let his mother know she was in his thoughts — take pen in hand and write a letter home.
Mother’s Day 1944 arrived on May 14, just 23 days before the Allies would invade France on D-Day. It found Staff Sgt. Crawford A. Smith stationed at Camp Carson, Colo. Smith was a member of Company G of the 415th Infantry of the Timberwolf Division. As evening arrived, he took the time to write to his mother, Earle Smith, and family back in Elizabethton’s Stoney Creek community to let them know what was going on with him, to assure his mother that she had been on his mind and provide evidence he had been a good son.
“Sure hope you had a beautiful day today and everyone was well and you really enjoyed the day,” Smith wrote. “It sure was nice here today, and I went to services this morning and it was really swell. They had Communion services this morning.”
To provide evidence he had actually been to the church service, Smith included the program from the Protestant service. It featured an illustration of a mother on the front. Inside, it lists the Communion meditation as being “Behold Thy Mother.”
The sergeant said he had plenty of company during the service.
“A lot of the boys attended services today, as it was Mother’s Day. They wanted to show their respect for their mothers for they knew it would please them if they know they were in church and I really enjoyed the services.”
From here Smith goes on to talk about the things that are going on at home and thanking the family for the items they have sent him, including the handkerchiefs from his young nephew Randy.
He asks about how his father, Edward Smith, is doing and the status of his corn and tobacco crops. Smith comments on how hard it must be for his father to be trying to farm and work at one of the rayon plants in Elizabethton at the same time. Also, he inquires about the work that goes with the Smiths’ fairly new home in Nave Hollow, where they relocated after having to move from the Carden’s Bluff area due to the construction of the Watauga Dam.
Smith hopes his dad has been able to get a waterline run to the house “for that would really help out a lot and save a lot of work and worry” as it would mean the family wouldn’t have to hand carry water to the home.
But for all of his concerns about the folks back home and letting his mother know about the services at the camp, there was something that could take away his attention from his letter writing for a while.
“There was four girls come out here to the barracks a minute ago when I was writing … looking for me. I went out and talked to them a while and they have gone back to town now,” the sergeant wrote.
Social interaction had apparently been lacking at the post, making life a little dull as he wrote “We are restricted to camp so I can’t go out now, so all I can do is sit around here.”
Smith finishes off his letter by writing a little more about camp life, promising to write more and making a quick mention of another woman he has met, who also happens to be from Tennessee.
He closes the letter with a P.S. to his mother: “Love to mother always and I wish I could have got you something for Mother’s Day.”
Smith would never have another chance to buy his mom a Mother’s Day present. Before the month was out, Earle Smith would suffer what was believed to be a massive heart attack, dying on her back porch as her husband was walking across the front yard to catch a ride for his evening shift at the plant.
The death of his mother would not be the only wound he would receive before he could return home. Sent to Europe with the rest of the Timberwolf Division in late 1944, he would be wounded in Belgium in late ’44 or early in 1945. A gunshot shattered the ulna in one of his arms. He faced the possibility of amputation until a surgeon took a portion of a bone from his leg and successfully grafted it in to replace the shattered one.
The injury also brought Smith to a hospital in Jackson, Miss., for his recovery. While there he met Marilyn Wild, who would return with him to Elizabethton as his wife. Eventually they settled about a mile up the road from his parents’ home, where they raised five children.
Robert Pierce is a nephew of Crawford Smith and grandson of Earle Smith.