The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

World News

June 20, 2014

Before 'Saving Private Ryan,' Pvt. Smith was saved

(Continued)

BARNARD CASTLE, England —

"It was as if they knew the story of us — except they are called the Ryans and not the Smiths," she said.

Although Margaret Smith once told a relative "Don't have boys. They'll just end up being cannon fodder," Amanda Nelson stressed that Margaret believed she did the right thing by allowing her sons to serve.

"She would gladly send them again to fight," Amanda Nelson said. "For king and country."

___

In this community, where people often live not far from where their ancestors lived, the Smith story seems very real despite the passage of time. There's a sense of connection to the past that Brookes, the newspaper editor, feels strongly.

Earlier this month, he lifted a dusty, faded red book from an upstairs shelf that holds full-sized bound copies of the paper: the volume labeled 1918. He pushed his finger down the page, to the final sentences of a long column of newsprint, below an item on a produce sale for the War Prisoners Fund.

Brookes has wondered why such a unique and tragic tale would garner so little attention in the paper.

His guess was that by 1918, people had wearied of war — so many had lost so much. But he also speculated the plight of the Smith family might have been deemed less newsworthy because they were members of the town's underclass.

"If not for 'Private Ryan,' it might be lost to history," he said, crediting the Spielberg movie as having offered a contemporary connection.

___

Wilfred Smith lived until 1972, when he died at age 74. He was a frequent visitor to the monument at the Bowes Museum that bears his brothers' names.

In "Saving Private Ryan," the now-older soldier stands before the graves of the men who saved him and recalls their sacrifice, saying he tried to live the best life he could. Wilfred Smith's family believes that he, too, could hold his head high as he scanned the names of his brothers at the Bowes obelisk.

"He was a good dad," Dianne Nelson said with pride. "He was a true person."

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