The Smith family had travelled thousands of miles to raise a family far from the wars and poverty of eastern Europe, only to have one of their sons give the ultimate sacrifice on a far-off battlefield in France.
After John Smith (1869-1953) and his fiancé Mary (1869-1925) married in 1886 in Poland, they wasted no time boarding a ship for a new life in America. John was a miner by trade and there were countless mines in Pennsylvania and Ohio in need of his skills. John and Mary settled in Luzerne County, Pennsylvania at first where John worked in coal mines in, and around, the city of Wilkes-Barre. Mary gave birth to four children in Wilkes-Barre, before the family made the decision to follow the mining work into Ohio around 1895.
The Smith family settled in the northeast section of New Philadelphia, living in a home across the street from the Fair Street Cemetery. The family continued to grow with the birth of six more children by 1910. The elder sons initially followed in their father’s footsteps, working as coal miners themselves. However, industrial growth in New Philadelphia and Dover, Ohio provided other opportunities for earning a living as well.
One of their sons, born in Wilkes-Barre, was their second oldest child named Walter A. Smith (1889-1918). While Walter was able to read and write, there is little evidence that he ever received any former schooling. When Walter was required to register for the draft in 1917, he was working as a mill worker at the American Sheet and Tin Plate factory in New Philadelphia. A few months after registering for the draft Walter married Margaret Kane (1888-1961), the daughter of Irish immigrants.
Eight months after his marriage, and a move into a home on South 8th Street (modern Fifth Street SW), Walter’s draft number was drawn. Walter, along with other local draftees, boarded trains bound for training at Camp Gordon, Georgia in May 1918. Once there, he and the other draftees were assigned to various training units at the camp in preparation for them all joining units then serving with the American Expeditionary Force in Europe. After initial training at Camp Gordon, the replacement troops boarded transports bound for France in the summer of 1918.
Private Walter A. Smith received another week of training after arriving in France and was then assigned to Company I, 39th Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Division. When Private Smith arrived at his unit, the 4th Infantry Division was preparing for an offensive that became known as Battle of Saint-Mihiel. The battle was intended to break through German lines and capture the city of Metz and was the first large offensive in which the United States Army played a pivotal role. The battle began on September 12, 1918 and lasted four days and ultimately laid the groundwork for the Meuse-Argonne Offensive that soon followed.
The 4th Division was positioned to the northwest of the city of Verdun when the Meuse-Argonne Offensive began on September 26, 1918. Within a few days the division, and Private Smith, had advanced to just south of Brieulles, France. It was during this advance, on October 1, 1918, that Private Walter A. Smith was killed. Later that same month two of Walter’s brothers succumbed to influenza so, during the month of October 1918, the Smith family lost three sons. The family did not receive news of Walter’s death until December 1918, and his body did not return home for burial until September 1921. Private Smith is buried at Calvary Cemetery in New Philadelphia.
© Noel B. Poirier, 2022.