The Battle of Iwo Jima took on a very personal nature this past week as I explored the cemetery of Red Hill Baptist Church in rural Polkton, NC. I was aware a great-uncle and aunt were buried there; however, I was unaware that the red clay ground on which I was walking had 71 years earlier served as a place of mourning as that same family buried their son, Marine Corporal Ted H. Smith (1923-1945). Like many of you, I have read historical notes, seen pictures, news reels and movie re-enactments of that great battle near the end of World War II, but only last week realized my own family had known the personal sacrifice of a son on those beaches.
I began sleuthing my family heritage in cemeteries, courthouses and libraries long before genealogical sites like Ancestry.com became popular. For a decade, my dad, serving as my navigator, and I have pursued long forgotten family graves; a journey that has sometimes taken us to abandoned, roadside cemeteries dating to the 18th and 19th centuries. Many of the roads we follow were a century ago nothing more than foot trails and wagon roads. Even in 2016, it is not unusual for us to traverse a one-lane dirt road, walk through a pasture and find a family cemetery overgrown with weeds and thorns. Some long forgotten cemeteries have been overtaken by trees, reclaiming the ground that 150 years earlier was a place of mourning for families of the Civil War who laid to rest their fathers, mothers, sons and daughters.
My exploration of church and family cemeteries has revealed a rich military heritage of veterans who fought in the Revolutionary War, Civil War, World War I, World War II, and the Korean War. Today I add the name of my 2nd cousin, Corporal Ted H. Smith, one of 6,800 US Marines who died in the Battle of Iwo Jima (February 19 – March 26, 1945) on March 2, 1945. He was 22 years old when he gave his life in heroic service to our country.
Copyright 2016 – Travis D. Smith