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Local Veterans Remember World War II

The Laker - May 31, 2017





By Sarah Wright

Every veteran has a story. Together, these stories make up the fabric of our nation’s history. Throughout time, stories like these have been passed down from generation to generation. We can learn a lot from someone else’s experiences, especially those of our veterans. Most inspirational is how these individuals joined the fight for our freedoms, and helped our country persevere through a time of war. On Memorial Day, and every day, we should be thankful for the sacrifices countless men and women made for the United States of America. I was lucky enough to talk with two World War II veterans, and here are their stories.

Warren Pond enlisted in the Merchant Marine when he was 19 years old. He received his basic training in Mississippi before spending the next couple of years as an engineer on ships stationed primarily in the North Atlantic. The Merchant Marine is the fleet of ships, which carries imports and exports during peacetime and becomes a naval auxiliary during wartime to deliver troops and war material.

“In 1939 and 1940, the German subs were really beating us up all along the east coast,” says Warren, “We lost a lot of boys and ships. It wasn’t until we officially entered the war (WWII) in 1941 that we finally got some protection and traveled in escorted convoys.” Warships from different ports would meet up to form fleets of 40 or more ships to cross the Atlantic Ocean together. Even so, the American, Canadian, and English escort warships had their hands full fighting off the German “wolf pack” submarines. Convoy destinations were secret, cameras were not allowed on board, and mail was censored, all in an effort to prevent such intelligence from getting into German hands. An old saying from the time was, “Loose lips sink ships.”

Casualties were very high. In fact, most people are unaware that the Merchant Marines suffered the highest percentage of losses of those who served. Warren served on freighters that carried supplies to England and on a troop ship that transported troops from England to France, and returned with those who were injured but still mobile. (Serious injuries were handled by hospital ships.) German prisoners were also transported. His ship, the Marine Wolf, made 105 trips between Le Havre in France, and South Hampton, England. Missions were hazardous. “The Germans owned most of Europe, so we were directly under fire,” says Warren, “There were constant aerial attacks.”

Warren also made one trip through the Mediterranean destined for Iraq on the Persian Gulf. However, it was terminated by a German aerial torpedo just east of Algiers, on Hitler’s birthday in 1944. “We abandon ship, and got in the lifeboats,” recalls Warren, “When we saw the ship wasn’t sinking, we went back aboard and limped into Algiers. Eventually, we got patched up in Gibraltar and sent back to the States.”

Warren was in South Hampton, England in May of 1945 when the Germans surrendered (“The Brits went wild”) and when Japan surrendered a few months later. There was much to celebrate. Warren went on one last trip carrying cargo to Shanghai before returning home to the United States in 1946. He had gotten married in 1943 while he was serving, and when he was finally home, he and his wife started a family.

Warren still loves being on the water and spent many years sailing on the ocean to places like Bermuda and the Virgin Islands. He and his wife lived in the Virgin Islands for over 20 years before moving to Wolfeboro. We thank him for his service.

Luther “Smitty” Smith always wanted to fly, so when he enlisted on October 13th, 1942 he chose to enlist in the Air Force. The United States military needed bombing crews and Smitty volunteered to be a gunner, because he knew that was the quickest way to get in the air. He trained in open-cockpit aircraft, and practiced firing on enemy planes by aiming at a target on a cable attached to the plane. During the war, his squadron was based in the East Anglia region of England, and he flew missions from there in a B-17. Missions averaged about eight hours, and the military targets included places that were involved in the manufacture of aircraft or petroleum products. The British Air Force bombed targets during the night, and the Americans bombed targets during daylight hours.

“There was always anti-aircraft fire,” says Smitty, “On our tenth mission, in July of 1943, we were shot up and lost two engines.” He continues, “We started throwing everything overboard to lighten the plane, and disconnected the turret and ammo boxes. We finally brought the plane down in a field in Patcham, England and had to abandon it.” The men spent the night at a hotel, before being picked up by another plane the next day that took them back to the base.

Smitty completed 13 missions before his plane was shot down and he lost his right hand. The men parachuted out, and because Smitty couldn’t pull the rip cord on his right side, the tail gunner pulled a static line to open his parachute. When the three men landed, they were captured and taken to a German hospital where they were operated on. The next day, they were transferred to a German military hospital, and then a month later to an interrogation center for questioning.

After that, they were sent to a hospital for wounded POWs, staffed by English doctors, and finally to the Luft 4 Camp for Air Force prisoners in Poland. After having been a POW for over eight months, Smitty left the camp with five other men in an exchange of disabled prisoners. The disabled American prisoners were traded for disabled German prisoners.

He received an Honorable Discharge, and returned home to Fryeburg, Maine. With the loss of his right hand, finding work was difficult, but he found seasonal work to keep busy. Smitty kept in touch with his friends from the Air Force, visiting with them through the years. We thank him for his service.

For all those members of the military who died while serving our country, and to those veterans who lived to tell their stories, we honor them for their bravery.

(Editor’s note: special thanks to the staff of the Wright Museum in Wolfeboro for information for this story.) 

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