JANUARY 16, 2008

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USAO employee Bill Smith gets Purple Hearts, 62 years later

Photo of Representative Tom Cole and USAO President John Feaver as they present Purple Hearts to Bill Smith.
His wounds healed six decades ago, but Chickasha’s Bill Smith (center) never got the medals he earned in WWII. Two Purple Hearts were presented to him Nov. 29 by U.S. Congressman Tom Cole, left. At his right is USAO President John Feaver.

More than 62 years after he earned them in World War II, Chickasha’s Bill Smith on Nov. 29 actually laid eyes for the first time on the two Purple Hearts that he earned while serving in the U.S. Marines. Smith was decorated in a special ceremony by U.S. Congressman Tom Cole.

For nearly 35 years, Smith has been a member of the administration at the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma, holding various responsibilities. He continues as an assistant to the president.

Smith was born Sept. 4, 1925, in Cromwell, Okla. On the same day he graduated from high school -- May 22, 1943 -- he enlisted in the U.S. Marines Corps Reserve. A year later, serving with many others, his unit helped to cut off the Orote Peninsula on Guam when it suffered a Banzai attack. The next day, Smith was wounded by enemy fire on July 27, 1944. A bullet fired by a Japanese sniper cut through his right leg.

While that incident and injury qualified Smith to receive a Purple Heart at the time, Smith remembers, “I refused them.” His unit was still fighting.

He returned to battle, and 10 months later was injured a second time when shrapnel from enemy bombs sprayed members of his unit. It was Easter Sunday – April 1, 1945 – and the Marines had landed on Okinawa when an enemy plane came in. A piece hit him in the upper torso. Today the scars remain visible on his left arm and shoulder.

This second injury qualified Smith to earn a second Purple Heart. “By the time I was hospitalized, treated and made it back to America, the war was over,” Smith said. “I was just happy to be alive.” Like many other soldiers, he moved on with his life, went to college, married and began to raise a family.

Tom Cole stirred the Chickasha Rotary Club with several stories of military heroism – both from family history and from his recent trips to Iraq. He praised the courage, tenacity, duty and loyalty of service members serving now and throughout American history.

“I’m not sure I’m qualified to present these honors to Bill Smith today,” Cole said. “But I am profoundly honored to deliver them on behalf of the United States Marines.”

People who know military protocol know that soldiers may qualify, due to injuries received in battle, for more than one Purple Heart, but no one actually receives more than one. For the second honor, the soldier is presented a star in the Purple Heart’s ribbon.

Is there any disappointment in getting them 62 years late?

“Not at all,” Smith told the audience. “I am profoundly honored to receive them finally. My daughters are grown, and their children are having children, and it seemed logical to them to put these missing pieces together. It was their idea.”

Contact: Randy Talley, USAO, (405) 574-1337