Every Veteran Has A Story: Private First-Class Hugh John Smith

Private First-Class Hugh John Smith
United States Army, Killed in Action, World War II
135 Infantry Regiment – 34 Infantry Division

March 2, 2021 - Hugh John Smith was born in the far east Texas town of Joaquin to Margie Mary Hinton and Johnnie Edward Smith on May 8, 1924. He had three brothers, Curtis, Ovis and Gerald along with two sisters Jennett and Patsy. Like many at that time, they lived on a rented farm that was located on Pine Ridge Road in rural Shelby County. Living through the Great Depression of the 1930’s the family no doubt depended on the farm for survival. Hugh was able to attend Joaquin Schools graduating probably in 1941. 

With the Japanese surprise attack on the US Naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, December 7, 1941, the United States found itself embroiled in a second world war but this time on two fronts, Europe and the Pacific. Hugh now 18 years old complied with the Selective Service Act of 1940 and registered for the military draft on June 30, 1942. His D.S.S. Form 1, Registration Card showed the following; residence in Joaquin, Texas, self-employed (unspecified); five foot ten inches tall, 132 pounds; gray eyes, brown hair, light complexion with no physical characteristics that would aid in identification.(1)

On December 4, 1943 Hugh was inducted into the US Army in Tyler, Smith County, Texas. According to the book “The Men and Women in World War II from Shelby County” he took his training at Camp Fannin, Texas near Tyler that was an Army Infantry Replacement Training Center. Following approximately 14 weeks of training Hugh was assigned as a replacement for the 135 Infantry Regiment of the 34 Infantry Division (Bull Division) that had been in Europe since May 1942. The exact time of his arrival at his new unit is unknown but in all probability around June 1944 at the time the division was resting in Rome, Italy. Following this rest, they drove across the Cecina River to liberate Livorno, 19 July 1944, and continued on to take Monte Belmonte in October during the fighting on the Gothic Line. Digging in south of Bologna for the winter, the Thirty-fourth manned the line opposite the German Sixty-fifth Infantry Division.(2)

While preparing for the Spring Offensive in Italy Private First-Class Hugh John Smith was killed in action on January 27, 1945 at the age of twenty. Circumstances and exactly where in Italy are not known. He was buried in a temporary cemetery with an Army Chaplain giving final burial rites. His comrades would fight on until Victory in Europe was declared on Hugh’s twenty-first birthday, May 8, 1945 and the formal Japanese surrender September 2, 1945 that ended World War II. The Red Bull Division suffered 2,866 killed in action, 22,545 wounded in action along with 622 missing and 1,368 were taken as prisoners of war.

The Champion Newspaper, Center, Shelby County, Texas, March 1, 1945 reported “his parents received a telegram from the War Department informing them of their son’s death. The last letter from Hugh was dated January 23 that read ‘Dear Mom, the ink is out of my pen. I will write you lots of letters when I get back on rest’. “

Appearing in the March 22 edition of the Champion was a poem about Hugh that was written by an unidentified friend. It read “Now if all you readers will listen, I will tell – About a home boy we all knew well – If you never have seen him, he is still no stranger to you – Because he was a true soldier of the Red, White and Blue – Hugh loved his home, like most all boys do – He got in uniform to help carry Uncle Sam through – Then he bade everyone goodbye – And went with his Buddies to the front where soldiers live and die – There he was in battle, day and night – Among the snow-covered hills of Italy, so high and white – There is where he proved he was a soldier brave and true – Because he gave his life for the Red, White and Blue – The news about his death made all feel sad – And it brought great heartaches to his mother and dad – Mother and Dad’s thoughts about him will never fade – Because he fulfilled the promises he made – His brothers and sisters will remember him through tears – And will miss him through lonely years – One grand thought that will remain in our hearts – Hugh was a true soldier and did his part”.

Following the end of World War II of which more than 405,300 Americans died, families were offered burial options. They could choose burial in an overseas military cemetery or bring the remains of their loved one home to the United States for burial in a cemetery of their choice. Margie and Johnnie chose the latter as did approximately 60% of other families facing the same decision.(3) It was an enormous undertaking and did not happen overnight.

The remains of Hugh John Smith arrived in Center, Texas, at 10:17 a.m., Tuesday, December 14, 1948 with a military escort. His body was carried to the family home near Joaquin by members of the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars. Reburial rites were held the next day at the Pine Ridge Cemetery with Rev. Rainey officiating. Final Military Funeral honors were rendered by the American Legion and VFW. Survivors were his parents Margie and Johnnie Smith; sisters, Mrs. Raymond Moore, Venice, Louisiana and Miss Patsy Smith, Joaquin; three brothers, Curtis Smith, Houston, Ovis Smith, Venice, Louisiana and Gerald Smith, Joaquin; grandparents, Mr. and Mrs. H. T. Hinton, Joaquin and Mrs. Annie Lou Smith, Center. (Champion Newspaper, Center, Texas, December 16, 1948). Day is done, God is nigh.

“That these dead shall not have died in vain” ... Abraham Lincoln


Combat Infantryman Badge
Purple Heart – Good Conduct Medal – American Campaign Medal
European African Middle Eastern Campaign Medal – World War II Victory Medal
34 Infantry Division Insignia - US Army Seal – 135 Infantry Regiment Insignia

(1) The National Archives in St. Louis, Missouri; St. Louis, Missouri; WWII Draft Registration Cards for Texas, 10/16/1940-03/31/1947; Record Group: Records of the Selective Service System, 147; Box: 1401
(2) “34th Infantry Division (United States).” In Wikipedia, February 16, 2021. https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=34th_Infantry_Division_(United_States)&oldid=1007028669
(3) General Information. Accessed February 6, 2021. https://www.cem.va.gov/CEM/publications/NCA_America_WWII_Burial_Program