Old Breed to New Breed

For the 241st birthday of the Marine Corps, here are the photos of William Thomas Smith, Jr. – a Marine who packed a lot into six years.


Bill was a West Virginia native who decided early on that he wanted to serve in the Marines – so much so that he falsified his date of birth to enlist in June, 1941. The sixteen-year-old Smith made it through Parris Island, and was assigned to the guard battalion of the Washington, DC Navy Yard. He originally received high marks in his service record, but the outbreak of the war meant a tightening of discipline, and when Bill committed the cardinal sin of sleeping on watch, a deck court martial sentenced him to twenty days of solitary confinement.

A few days after his release, Bill was charged with the destruction of government property, possibly for attacking bales of barbed wire with his bayonetted rifle. The total damage was valued at $50, and Bill was nearly kicked out of the Corps. Instead, he was put on six months probation and transferred to the Fleet Marine Force.

Bill was sent down to New River, North Carolina, and assigned to HQ/2/1st Marines. He was one month into his six month sentence when he got in trouble yet again; this time for being absent over leave. Punishment was swift and decisive: a bad conduct discharge, which would bar him from reenlisting.

By 1943, the Corps was badly in need of manpower. They reconsidered the petition of former Private Bill Smith; he was now of legal age to serve, had a number of positive character witnesses, and – added bonus – had already been through boot camp. The BCD was expunged from his record, and Bill re-entered the Corps in January, 1944. He was even allowed to retain his original service number. His preference was for combat duty, but instead he was transferred to Hawaii to serve with the Third Provisional Marine Detachment.

"Taken at Vans Restaurant on Beretania Street, Honolulu. Sgt. Deaton, Lt. Billzraus, Pl.Sgt. O'Donnel, Trebel, Fred Bianzarti, Bill Smith, Bob Yingling."
“Taken at Vans Restaurant on Beretania Street, Honolulu. Sgt. Deaton, Lt. Billzraus, Pl.Sgt. O’Donnel, Trebel, Fred Bianzarti, Bill Smith, Bob Yingling.”

Bill spent the summer of 1944 as an MP and truck driver. After a few months of this duty – during which time he was promoted to Private First Class – Bill wound up as a replacement in the Fourth Marine Division. He would carry a BAR with C/1/24th Marines in the next invasion, which happened to be Iwo Jima.

Bill Smith's souvenir of Iwo.
Bill Smith’s souvenir of Iwo.

Iwo would be PFC Smith’s first and last battle. Slightly injured at the battle’s outset, he managed to fight on until a piece of shrapnel tore up his hip on March 8, 1945. He was evacuated to Hawaii for treatment; though his wounds healed, he was considered unfit for further frontline service. Bill drove trucks for the massive Fleet Marine Force Transient Center through the end of the war; he finished out his enlistment over the span of 1946 with easy guard duty at the Naval Air Station in Norfolk, Virginia. He was promoted to corporal on January 8, 1947 – the same day he received his honorable discharge.


Sadly, Bill Smith died in 1969, at the age of 44.


The photographs and biographical information in this post were kindly provided by Thomas Smith, Bill’s son.

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