Rogers Smith was born in 1930 in Church Hill, Maryland. Being 11 years old when Pearl Harbor was bombed, Rogers tells his experiences as a teenager during the war.
In the interview, he particularly discusses how the boys in his community were place in unique positions substituting for the men who had gone of to join the armed forces, the war’s impact on the fire department in Church Hill, and his decision to serve in the Korean War, six years after the war’s end.
Boys Entering the Service
My most vivid memory of the war, I don’t know, I was 13 or 14 at the time, I guess. Was that, suddenly, I woke up one morning and all the young men were gone. Now obviously, it didn’t happen overnight, it happened over a period of years. I didn’t realize what was going on in that respect until sometime a year or two after the war started. Young men between the ages of 18 and say 30 were not there any longer. The principal of my high school just didn’t show up one day because he left to go into the armed forces. A couple of the teachers – male teachers – they were replaced by, for the most part, teachers who had retired and returned to fill the vacancies. Our new principal had been a retired principal who had come in to fill in until the war was over and the principal who left could return. The postman – he was no longer there. People that worked in my father’s auto agency, a couple of them had left to go in the service.
Junior Firemen and the “Sky Pilot”
The young men who had been active members of the fire department were not there. They were replaced by older men and we boys. At that time if you were 14, because of the necessity to have somebody to help, you could become a member of the fire department and the older ones trained us as best they could. The school, as you go into Churchill, sitting up on a hill, is an elementary school; it was where I went to high school. Now the fire department was in the center of town further down, maybe a half mile it was. When the fire siren blew, those of us who were members of the fire department could immediately get up from our desks and race down the street to the firehouse to help put out the fire wherever it was. So the man who drove the fire truck was a Methodist minister and he had no experience fighting fires or driving fire trucks, but he did it. His nickname was the sky pilot. (laughs) I’m not sure what the connection was to his ministry, and the fact that he was driving the fire truck, but it was an affectionate nickname. You know, he liked to be known as the sky pilot.
German POW Camp near Church Hill
Four miles south of Churchill was a prisoner of war camp. Well the guys in the POW camp, the German prisoners worked on the farms around the area. They were accompanied to the farm by guards of course. They worked in the fields, they milked the cows, they did all the farm work that the farmers required and they worked pretty well. I can’t remember any of them trying to escape. I can’t remember them ever having to round up any of them. Of course there were soldiers there to contain them. But it worked very well for the farmers because it gave them extra hands to do the farm work.
29th Infantry Division
There was a National Guard Unit in this area, and I guess in all areas back in those days. The National Guard unit for Kent, Queen Anne’s, Talbot, and Caroline County, was part of the 29th infantry division –the 125th regiment of the 29th infantry division was made up of men from the mid-eastern shore area. This National Guard unit was activated, I think, in early 1941, just before the war broke out in December and trained throughout the country and shipped out to England probably, I’m guessing 1942 sometime. And it was this unit that June 6th, 1944, crossed the channel and was part of the D-Day invasion in France. So there were a lot of casualties, of course… I get a little sentimental sometimes thinking about it.
Patriotism After the War
Then, when the war was over, the troops came home. And there was a big celebration, of course. I remember being so proud, so patriotically proud – which I am today. When I hear “God Bless America “ or “the Star-Spangled Banner” or the taps blowing on a bugle, I get a little choked up sometimes. And as I saw these young men dressed in their freshly-pressed uniforms, I thought, “You know, I should really be there doing that.” Little did I know that, six years later, I would be wearing an Air Force Officer’s uniform in the Korean War.