Monday, November 10, 2008

World War II Remembered

In honor of Veterans Day, I'd like to share a newspaper article I wrote about my grandmother some 11 years ago at BYU. It was a "fluff" piece I turned into my editor with no expectation of ever seeing it in print. You can imagine my surprise when I walked on campus on Veterans Day and picked up a copy of The Daily Universe. Yep, this little "fluff" piece was staring me right in the face on the front page. Needless to say I had the best time calling my grandma that day to say, "I hope you're ready for the spotlight again."

LDS Singer Looks Back on USO Experience
Universe Staff Writer - 13 Nov 1997

Every year on Veteran's Day, we as a nation set aside a day of remembrance for those servicemen and women who fought to keep the freedoms we enjoy today. One such LDS veteran is Norma Squires Smith, who served in World War II as a singer overseas in the United Services Organization, (USO).

From singing in the tabernacle at age 11, to throwing baseballs with David O. McKay's son, Smith's career as an entertainer has taken her far and wide, leaving behind memories of a lost but not forgotten time.

Smith, now 76 and residing in San Jose, Calif., went from singing in a nightclub in Hollywood to performing before soldiers in North Africa and Italy. Many of these performances were within three miles of the fighting and in front of crowds of 5000 servicemen.

From an interview in her home she said the nostalgia about WWII has led her to wear a replica of her USO uniform to entertain veteran groups today. Smith recently had her picture and a plaque of her experiences overseas, go up in the war memorial room of Hollywood High School, where she attended in 1936.

Smith was only 21 when a call from a talent scout came offering her a position in the USO. "The possibility of going overseas gave rise to a series of emotional reactions and I was asking myself: can I leave my home and parents and face the unknown?" Smith said.

But before she knew it she found herself saying, "yes" and getting fitted for her uniform and getting shots for typhoid and tetanus.

"The FBI ran a complete security check on me, had me fingerprinted and told me that if I were captured by the enemy, I would be treated as a POW-Capt. status," Smith said.

Smith said she knew she would be in dangerous circumstances, but wanted to do her part for the war effort. The USO shows ran from October 1941 to June 1944, with her travels taking her through Alaska, North Africa, Italy and England.

The USO provided nearly 124,000 shows to 71.4 million men.

Her first impression of the war was of the poor, weary servicemen in the Aleutian Islands, near Alaska, where she was first assigned.

"Most of these men had not seen a woman, yet alone a white woman, in 18-20 months, so they were quite happy to see us."

As the war came to an end, so did Smith's life as a traveling performer. "Everyone wanted to forget the war and get on with the rest of their lives. Now everyone is so nostalgic about the war and so interested. Everyone wants me to sing again in my uniform -- so I do," Smith said.

Last year she attended a reunion for the 487th bomb group. She was in London celebrating their 100th mission 50+ years ago. She's also been in the production of the play "South Pacific" in which she added a touch of authenticity, as she sang the same songs she did during the war.

From a little girl singing in the Tabernacle to making history with the USO, it is no wonder her life has come full circle. And it's no surprise that 50 years ago, some GI cast his eye on a blond-haired soprano, whose voice helped soothe the angst and heal the soul.

Happy Veterans Day, Grandma!
Love, PK


Brandy and Dave said...

Kelly, this article is fabulous and I love the photo. You've been tagged on my blog. If you have some time, swing by and check it out. ~Brandy

susan opel said...

Yay, Kelly! What a thrill (and honor) this must have been to see your story in print. Was it above the fold, too? What a great remembrance of your grandma!

sandee said...

I am assuming since this is such an awesome story and you work in the keeping memories special field that you have made a wonderful LO of this moment in her time. I would love to see what you did with to share it?

P. Kelly Smith said...

Sandee, you've just given me a great idea for a Christmas present! Even a shadow box with all of my grandma's WWII memorabilia would be a great keepsake for generations to come.

Cath said...

This is such an amazing article and post, Kelly! I'm so glad you shared it with all of us! You are, indeed, a GREAT story teller! Your family must be so proud of your grandma and her service.