Saturday, May 7, 2011

Rest In Peace, William Harlan Smith, Sr.

This afternoon, my father-in-law, William Harlan Smith, Sr., passed away peacefully, surrounded by his sons who love him dearly, both of them holding his hands and stroking his soft white hair as he drew his last breaths.  He was in hospice care after having been gravely ill for a while, and we knew it was coming, but that never quite steels you for the actual moment, does it?

Bill, Sr., was a heckuva guy:  quick with a joke, or a flashing smile, or a laugh that sounded like a booming avalanche of hilarity rumbling nearby.

To know him in his later years, you would never have known that he had grown up in a family where abuse was common and food was scarce, because he never looked on the bleak side of anything if he could help it.  But to know his history made it even more amazing to see him as the gentle, loving, kind father that he was -- he taught his children by his own example what he never got to learn in his own home, that parenting is a responsibility that is best served with love and care, every single day of his life.

He gave his boys the childhood he never got to have, and they love him all the more for knowing that their father consciously decided to take that path.

The photo above was taken in 2009, his very first trip to Disney World.  You'd never know that the smiling man above was headed out to dialysis about an hour after this picture was taken, because he was a trooper.  Always.

It probably came from his military service.  Bill, Sr., joined the Navy as a young man during WWII -- actually at the age of 16, but the draft board fellow let him through with a wink and a nod because we needed every able bodied soul we could find at the early stages of the war.  He was shipped out to the Pacific theater, where he drove those amphibious-looking landing craft onto the beaches of every godforsaken island in the place and then fought in some of the bloodiest battles from Tarawa and Iwo Jima to everything in between and after.

If you have ever watched the HBO miniseries that Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks put together on The Pacific, that -- all of that -- is what my father-in-law survived.  But like every man of his generation in my family or outside it that I have ever known, he rarely if ever talked about it.

Once he got out of service, he became the first man in his family to attend college, thanks to saving the life of the son of a certain college dean at Texas Wesleyan who was willing to give him a chance despite his only having a 9th grade education.  He loved college, and loved reading and learning for the rest of his life because of this opportunity.  Sometimes, the angels we meet along the way do more good than they ever know.

Bill, Sr. even managed to squeeze in some pitching time on a farm team for the Dodgers, playing under the name Bobby Swift.

But the US military soon saw to that, drafting him back in -- this time to the Marines -- and shipping him out to Korea where he survived the Chosin Reservoir before getting shot in the rear end.  That ended his baseball career aspirations in one fell shot...owie!...but earned him the nickname Bullet Bill.

All of this to say, he was an incredible man who lived one helluva life.  With all of the things that could have crushed a lesser man, he only drew strength from them and went on to marry the love of his life -- Marilyn -- and to help raise two amazing sons, my husband Bill and his wonderful brother Scott.

Semper Fi, Bill, Sr.  You will be missed.

(Photo by Christy Hardin Smith, taken at the Animal Kingdom at WDW in Florida in 2009.)


Dano said...

God's speed, Marine! A life well lived!! Semper Fidelis

Elliott said...

Love to all the Smith family, far and wide.

Suzanne said...

i'm so sorry christy.

my dad was also one of those farmboys allowed to join the navy with a wink and a nod who served in the pacific during ww2 ... and later in korea and the start of vietnam. my dad was a cook and i like to think bill and bill (my dad) are up there having a great reunion with all their buddies.

even though ya know its coming, its still hard. take care of your family and yourself, christy.

Phoenix Woman said...

Sad to see him go. Glad he got to see his grandkids before he did. Ave atque vale, William.

Mr. Reddhedd said...

Thanks to all for the kind words, the thoughts and prayers. Most of all thank you sweetheart for an excellent memorial to my father and hero. He was truly one of the great ones.

Christy Hardin Smith said...

Thanks everyone. Love you, baby. It has been a really tough last few years, and I would love it if the universe declared a moratorium on this sort of loss for a while...but I know better than to expect that to happen.

So stay safe and hold your loved ones close today.

HotFlash said...

Myu dear Christie,

I am so sorry for your loss. I understand that your F-in-L did not "go gentle into that good night". Thank you for the time you spent with him; I believe that this 'karmic' debt' will always be repaid, if it has not been already. Time is funny -- is? was? will be? they are all the same.

I hope that Ms Peanut will have good memories of her grandfather. Best wishes for the comfort and health of all your family.