Victor Walter Smith
Demolitions to Wrenches
Seen here are the uniforms and personal effects of Staff Sergeant (SSG) Victor Walter Smith, who served with the USMC and US Air force.
Victor Smith was born in St. Louis Missouri and in September 1943, he reenlisted in the United States Marine Corps. During training he qualified as a Demolitions Expert and was sent to the Pacific with the newly formed 1st Combat Engineer Battalion of the 1st Marine Division.
SSG Smith would join the battalion in the Pacific on March 3, 1944. During his time fighting in the Pacific he would serve in combat in many battles, including the Battle of New Britain, Battle of Peleliu and the final battle for the Pacific: the famous Battle of Okinawa.
Following the war, SSG Smith was sent to Tientsin, China in September 1945. The "China Marines", as they would become known, would serve as peacekeepers and returned to the United States during June 1947 to Camp Pendleton, California. After his return to the US and some time in the reserves he wanted to do something different and transferred to the 1st Marine Air Wing.
When the war in Korea broke out in 1950 he again went overseas, this time working with communications equipment as a member of the 1st Marine Airwing (MAG-12).
After Korea, SSG Smith would spend some time training in the US before transferring into the newly formed US Air force. During his time in the Air force, he would serve in Japan at a small airbase working with cargo and medical transport aircraft flying in and out of South East Asia.
Finally discharging for good in 1968, he had served in two wars and indirectly during a third. During his twenty-five years in uniform he earned the US Marine Good Conduct Medal, along with many other awards. Not pictured here are his Air Force awards from a later date, I will be replacing these on his Air Force uniform.
Battle of New Britain
The New Britain campaign commenced in 1943 as part of a huge offensive which intended to destroy the major Japanese base at Rabaul, the capital. The operation was conducted in two phases between December 1943 and August 1945. Initial fighting on New Britain took place around the western end of the island in December 1943 and January 1944, with US forces landing and securing bases around Arawe and Cape Gloucester.
This was followed by a further landing in March 1944 around Talasea. SSG Smith was on board for this landing and his first taste of combat. In November, the Australian 5th Division landed at Jacquinot Bay, and secured a defensive line between Wide Bay and Open Bay behind which they contained the larger Japanese forces for the rest of the war.
The Japanese regarded the New Britain Campaign as a delaying action, and kept their forces concentrated around Rabaul. The Marines suffered 310 killed and 1,083 wounded. Japanese losses on the other hand are estimated at around 30,000 dead, mostly from disease and starvation.
The Battle of Peleliu
SSG Smith Landed on Peleliu in September 1944. The next two months would prove some of the most hellish and unimaginably horrid for the Marines as they, and later soldiers of the U.S. Army's 81st Infantry Division, fought to capture an airstrip on the small coral island.
The Commander of the 1st Marine Division, predicted the island would be secured within four days. However, following numerous unsuccessful island defensive actions. Japan had developed new tactics and constructed numerous fortifications that allowed stiff resistance, extending the battle by more than two months. The outnumbered Japanese defenders fought to the death and put up such incredibly stiff resistance, that the island became known in Japanese as the "Emperor's Island.”
Few can sum up this hellish battle more than the words of the enigmatic Eugene Sledge:
“To the non-combatants and those on the periphery of action, the war meant only boredom or occasional excitement, but to those who entered the meat grinder itself the war was a netherworld of horror from which escape seemed less and less likely as casualties mounted and the fighting dragged on and on. Time had no meaning, life had no meaning. The fierce struggle for survival in the abyss of Peleliu had eroded the veneer of civilization and made savages of us all.”
― E.B. Sledge, With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa
The 1st Marine Division suffered over 6,500 casualties during the battle which accounted for over one third of their entire division. The 81st Infantry Division also suffered heavy losses with 3,300 casualties.
The ratio of Japanese to American dead was 10 to 1. Some 10,937 Japanese were killed and 2,500 were taken prisoner. Many more were entombed in caves never to be found. On average 1,589 rounds of ammunition were expended for each Japanese death.
A Japanese lieutenant with twenty-six 2nd Infantry soldiers and eight 45th Guard Force sailors held out in the caves in Peleliu until April 22, 1947, and surrendered only after a Japanese admiral convinced them the war was over.
Weary and exhausted Marine after the tough battle for Hill 200 Near Peleliu Airport 1944
First wave of LVT's move towards the beach on Peleliu under the cover of naval bombardment 1944
The Battle of Okinawa
The Battle of Okinawa was the largest amphibious assault in the Pacific Theater. The 82-day battle lasted from April 1 until June 22, 1945. It has often been been referred to as the "Typhoon of Steel" (violent wind of steel in Japanese) in reference to the ferocious fighting, intensity of kamikaze attacks, and the huge numbers of Allied ships and armored vehicles involved.
SSG Smith would take part in one of the bloodiest of the entire war, with approximately 160,000 casualties on both sides, including thousands of Okinawa civilians drafted by the Japanese. Additionally nearly 150,000 civilians were killed, committed suicide or went missing, almost half of the entire population. In the naval operations surrounding the battle, both sides lost considerable numbers of ships and aircraft, including the Japanese battleship Yamato. Close to 90% of the buildings on the island were destroyed, along with countless other historical and cultural treasures.
During the battle, American forces found it difficult to distinguish civilians from soldiers. It became common for them to shoot at Okinawan houses, as one Infantryman wrote:
“There was some return fire from a few of the houses, but the others were probably occupied by civilians – and we didn't care. It was a terrible thing not to distinguish between the enemy and women and children. Americans always had great compassion, especially for children. Now we fired indiscriminately.”
The Air War over Korea 1950-1955
SSG Smith would serve two tours in Korea with Marine Aircraft Group 12 (MAG-12) earning three Battle Stars. During his time with the unit he would serve as a radio repairman, and several positions in a Carrier repeater unit, all the way up to Carrier Chief. Carrier units were responsible for maintaining communication lines via telegraph poles, underground lines and other means.
At the beginning of the Korean War, the initial deployment of Marines was activated on July 7, 1950, the 1st Provisional Marine Brigade as it was known was formed from the 1st Marine Division and the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing. Its core consisted of two units, a regimental combat team from the 5th Marine Regiment and Marine Aircraft Group 33 (MAG-33). Their job was to provide close air support, resupply, and Medevac for Marine ground forces. This was one of the first units sent to Korea to try and stem the tide of the relentless North Korean advance. They faced some of the toughest obstacles of the war, almost no tanks, limited ammunition, and in some cases the wrong ammunition all together for artillery.
In late-June 1952, 75 aircraft from 1st MAW participated in the attack on the Sui-ho Dam which were strikes aimed at the hydroelectric plants in North Korea. Two 1st MAW aircraft groups, MAG-33 and MAG-12, and the 1st Antiaircraft Artillery Gun Battalion served during the course of the war.
The wing flew 127,496 sorties of which over 40,000 were close air support and Marine helicopters evacuated more than 9,800 wounded personnel.
Tachikawa Airbase 1960's
Once again when he returned home, SSG Smith wanted a change of scenery and transferred to the US Airforce, gaining more training with electronics and aircraft systems. Between 1965 and 1968 he was stationed at Tachikawa Airbase in Japan working on aircraft.
During his time there, operations at Tachikawa focused on Aeromedical Transport from the Philippines, C-130E troop carrier aircraft missions, and other air transport operations to and from Vietnam.
In the late 1960s, more and more transport operations were shifted to Yokota, and by 1969 the use of the airfield ended with the exception of light aircraft use. SSG Smith would retire from the military in 1968. Following nearly twenty-five years of war it was a nice quiet way to end a distinguished career that covered nearly all of Asia.