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Heck Smith, a Local Hero (a Memorial Day Tribute)

Fillmore Methodist c 1912.jpg

The origins of Memorial Day are somewhat in dispute, but most agree that the tradition of decorating veterans grave originated in the South and was soon adopted by the North after the Civil War. The date of May 30th may have been chosen as an optimal date for flowers to be in bloom in the North.
If you walk through Bardsdale Cemetery you will see a few plots of Civil War Veterans, a few Spanish – American War Veterans, and then more and more World War I and World II Veterans, Korean and Vietnam Conflict Veterans.

At the Museum we have some memorabilia from all these wars/conflicts that tell the story of men and women from Fillmore who served. We are especially lucky to have photos of World War II servicemen and women collected by A. H. “Painter” James.

World War I is not as well documented, but we do have a few items that tell stories. One solder we know about is Albert “Heck” Smith. Heck was born in Fillmore in 1896 to Walter and Ella Robertson Smith. His sister, Mildred, was born in 1901 and his mother passed away in 1903. His father remarried a few years later. Heck and Mildred were raised by their maternal aunts, Lucy Permelia and Neva Robertson in Bardsdale. The Robertson Family had come to the Valley in the 1870s.

When the United States entered World War I in 1917, Heck entered the U. S. Army. He left New York City on July 12, 1918 as a Private in Machine Gun Company C, 364th Infantry. He remained in France until March, 1919, returning as a Private, First Class.

Although he was not in France for a year, Heck would have seen some of the most intense fighting. His unit was involved in the Argonne Offensive which, according to Wikipedia, “…was the largest in United States military history, involving 1.2 million American soldiers. It is the second deadliest battle in American history, resulting in over 350,000 casualties including 28,000 German lives, 26,277 American lives and an unknown number of French lives. It was for his actions during the Argonne Offensive that Heck was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, the second highest military honor given by the United States has.

Heck Smith, a Local Hero (a Memorial Day Tribute)

Like most solders, he was probably most concerned with staying alive, but in a letter to his sister, Mildred, he wrote the following.

“Well, I was going to keep this a secret from you till I got home but I have decided to tell you that I am going to receive a Distinguished Service Cross. I suppose you want to know what I did. Well, I went out into No Man’s Land one night and helped bring in a wounded soldier. Went out about 500 or 600 yards and carried him in on two slickers and two rifles which were used as a stretcher…. I was surprised when my captain told me of (the award). He asked for volunteers and I said I would go. It didn’t seem any more than going on some errand I was told to do.”

At the Museum we have both the Croix de Guerre and Distinguished Service Cross citations which were issued to Heck and also the actual Distinguished Service Cross medal.

Heck returned home, married Marion Jorgenson and settled down in Fillmore. He worked at the Texaco Refinery as a boiler fireman, bought property in Bardsdale and raised citrus. The Smiths had two children, Milton and Dorothy Elaine. Milton graduated from Fillmore High School in 1940. By 1942, he was in the US Navy. He served in the Pacific as a Naval Officer. We have not been able to find his service records to give more detail to his Naval career, but we do have his Naval uniform on display along with his father’s memorabilia.

These were just two of many men and women from Fillmore and throughout the country who have served their country in its times of need. Memorial Day is our time to remember and honor them.

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