Sgt. Robert Burr Smith By Susan Smith Finn, his daughter
Posted 20 March 2003 - 01:31 AM
My father was Robert Burr Smith, with Easy Company from Toccoa to Kaprun. He was a machine gunner with the first platoon. He was mentioned in [BoB] only a handful of times, yet is included in a real long "post war" section at the end of the book, quoting a letter from him to Dick Winters, as he and Dick Winters stayed in touch until my dad died in 1983. I haven't seen him in the series at all except for a brief, passing mention.
Everything I know I have learned just [since spring 2001] by networking, asking questions, poring over old letters, reading every book I can find on the 101st (and I should recommend again the series of books by Donald Burgett of A Company ... they are riveting). Almost unanimously all the children of Easy Company say the same thing, that our dads never talked about the war to us. So I am learning along with all of you. All I knew was that my father was a paratrooper with the 101st and that he revered that association with the highest esteem. I used to brag to my friends that my dad jumped on the beach at Normandy ... well, I was a little off as to where he landed but that was about the gist of what my father shared with us kids.
A quick comment on the lovely Pete Toye. He told me that until [the book] "Band of Brothers", he knew nothing about his dad's war experiences other than he lost his leg in the Battle of the Bulge. It has been emotionally rewarding for him to learn so much about his dad. I think everyone who has a relative that served in this war is finding this to be common, that they simply did not talk about their experiences, at least not to their kids. Buck Compton's daughter told me a similar story about their dad ... all they knew was Buck had two scars on his butt from wounds that he had gotten in the war. They used to like to peek at it while he took a shower! My dad had a scar close to his knee. I knew he got it in the war, but stupidly never thought to ask him to describe the circumstances.
My father actually died in 1983 of lung cancer, not his hang gliding accident. In true Burr Smith larger-than-life fashion, he participated in the Delta Force failed rescue mission to Iran, came back to the US, went hang gliding that next weekend and smooshed his leg to "smith"ereens, almost died from bleeding ulcers, had 2/3 of his stomach removed, decided to retire from the CIA on a medical disability, had a bone transplant from hip to leg to see if he would heal, it never took, and then discovered he had terminal lung cancer. To go through all he had gone through and then to die over what he said was "a lousy pack of cigarettes" was demeaning and horrifying to him. I wish now I had asked.
Just before he died, for Christmas 1982, most of the surviving Easy Company men wrote him a letter to wish him well. These letters gave him great comfort in his last three weeks of life and he was so touched by them. For some reason I saved them all. I have one that [Joe Toye] wrote on December 10, 1982, saying he wasn't much at letter writing but he took the time to send him a few pages. This says so much to me about the men of Easy. Always there for each other. One thing he says that struck me was, "...I know from being around Co E for a few years that you can handle your sickness or another problem that arises." They all had such belief in their strength to tackle anything, it seems.
When my father died in early 1983, Dick Winters sent my mother a card. ... He wrote: "Another memory I have of Burr that goes back to the days in England was on an occasion Burr had a pass to go to London. I wanted a pair of good gloves so I gave him five pounds (at that time five pounds was worth $25). True to form, Burr brought back a real good pair of fur lined gloves that I still have, and wear today, 40 years later." I wonder if he still has them?
Burr Smith is buried at Ft. Rosecrans in Pt. Loma, CA in that beautiful veterans’ cemetery. It is a hauntingly beautiful place, high on a cliff overlooking the ocean on one side and the San Diego Bay on the other, probably the prettiest piece of real property in San Diego. It is always so quiet there, and I visit once a year, taking the time to sit and talk with my dad. … My conversation [this year started] with, "Guess who I met this year?!" He would get such a kick out of the fact that I have met and befriended many of his Easy Company pals.
Posted 20 March 2003 - 01:42 AM
As always, thank you for allowing us the honor of knowing some history on your Dad and sharing a part of your life. He really was something. Thank God for heros like him and all the Vets of all the Wars...
Posted 20 March 2003 - 04:04 AM
From this place I want to take the opportunity to thank Susan for all the stories she has shared with me about her father. I have learned much about Burr Smith in the past few months. He's a relatively unknown man of E-company. Alot of people on this forum know him as an E-company man, even though he wasn't mentioned that much in the BOB series.
It would have been a great honor to be able to meet this wonderful man. It's a shame that he isn't among us anymore. Having the opportunity to learn about his great efforts to serve his countrie gives us the opportunity to keep the memory of this great man alive.
Posted 20 March 2003 - 06:44 AM
Posted 20 March 2003 - 08:20 AM
You've got my respect by the age, but well, you've got my respect by the heart.
All the best,
Lil' Morgy *salute*
Posted 20 March 2003 - 09:30 AM
Posted 20 March 2003 - 09:41 PM
Remember, this is the Bill Guarnere site, not the Burr Smith site, though I appreciate the attention given to my dad. His story is one that should be told. Maybe we can convince some of the other Easy kids to share their stories. I think Gene should give it a go, since his dad is still alive.
I promise to add some stuff in here from time to time to share with you all what kind of man my dad was. One letter he wrote to me in 1969 from Laos you might find interesting today, in light of the war. I had written him to tell about the Charles Manson murders which had horrified me. I have shared this letter with some of you before as it really gets to me and tells me much about my dad:
"Your observations on the recent violent murders at home are pretty much like mine I think. These are strange times babylove - people are mixed up as never before, and the drug thing makes everything just that more hideous. My life, my income, and therefore your security, are all directly related to violence. I would not have this job, nor be away from home so much if there was not so much hate and violence in the world. It is odd (and sometimes deeply disturbing) to realize that my livelihood is gained from the most basic weakness of mankind - his inability to live in peace with his neighbors. Someday there may be no need for my kind of person - the experts in violence - and the world will be a better place when that day comes. I will be the very first to shout welcome to that happy time, but in the meantime there are tigers in the jungle and the defenseless must be defended - which means killing tigers. I hope you understand baby - I am not really a war-lover or a man of violence - its just that I have been trained for many years in the skills of warfare, and am needed to help other people defend themselves because they are not trained in these terrible skills."
(Letter, 1969, Burr Smith)
Posted 20 March 2003 - 10:45 PM
Thank you so very much for sharing Mr. Smith's stories. I don't know what to say, Susan I was speechless after reading that first post. In regards to the post with your dad's letter to you: what can I say? He's a heck of a writer and a heck of a man. I should've guessed that though, it seems to run in your great family. Thanks again, it's an honor to learn about your father. Please share more if you're comfortable with it.