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Robert Burr Smith [1924-1983]
Robert Burr Smith was born in Tacoma, WA, the son of the late Robert Marquette and Wylmarie Laura Smith, of Los Angeles, CA. He died on January 7, 1983, at the age of 58 of lung cancer.
Most of his youth was spent in Los Angeles, CA. When he was 14, he was sent to Brown Military Academy [1938-40]. Family legend is that Burr and his best friend were playing German Nazis and his mother was so horrified, she enrolled him in BMA to teach him to be more patriotic. It stuck as he has been hailed by his colleagues as a true American patriot.
Burr Smith was a distinguished soldier his entire life. After high school graduation, he joined the U.S. Army paratroopers in 1942 and was assigned to Easy Company, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division, made famous by Stephen Ambrose's book "Band of Brothers".
He survived WWII, jumping into Normandy on D-Day and through the Battle of the Bulge, earning two purple hearts.
In the 1960's, Burr Smith received Special Forces training, and was a lifelong Army Reservist, rising to the rank of Lt. Colonel.
In the late 1960's he was hired by the CIA as a paramilitary specialist assigned to the covert war in Laos where he worked for almost 8 years. His last position with the CIA was as their liaison officer to the newly formed Delta Force in the late 1970's-early 1980.
Burr was an active outdoorsman, and his passion in the last years of his life was hang gliding.
He is survived by his wife, Mary Jane Smith, currently residing in Santee, CA; three children, Christopher Scott Smith of Fresno, CA; Cynthia Susan Finn and her husband Tim Finn of Lodi, WI; and Sandra Ann Miller and her husband Steve Miller of Doylestown, PA; and eight grandchildren.
Source: Susan Smith Finn "I always felt that my father was so classy, so disciplined and attributed it to his military school years. The men of Easy always say he held himself like an officer, always walking straight and tall and with purpose...[June 2005]".
¬†He participated in the Delta Force failed rescue mission to Iran CIA, after their failed attempt to free the hostages at the U.S. Embassey in Teheran and retired soon therafter on a medical disability. Robert Burr Smith was instrumental in the formation of Delta Force.
"Sgt. Robert 'Burr' Smith also stayed in the paratroopers, where he got a commission and eventually became a lieutenant colonel. He commanded a Special Forces Reserve unit in San Francisco. In December 1979, he wrote to Winters: 'Eventually my reserve assignment led me to a new career with a governement agency, which in turn led to eight years in Laos as a civilian advisor to a large irregular force. I continued to jump regularly until 1974, when lack of interest drove me to hangliding, and that has been my consuming passion ever since...For the present I am assigned as a special assistant to the Commander of Delta Force, the counter-terror force at Fort Bragg. My specialties are (surprise! surprise!): airborne operations, light weapons, and small unti operations.
"Funny thing about 'The Modern Army', Dick. I am assigned to what is reputed to be the best unit in the U.S Army, the Delta Force, and I believe that it is. Still, on a man-for-man basis, I'd choose my wartime paratroop company (E Co. 506 Inf./101st Airborne) ANY TIME! We had something for three years that will never be equalled."
ACTIVITY DURING WWII
101ST AIRBORNE DIVISION, 506TH REGIMENT, EASY COMPANY. LANDED IN NORMANDY, OPERATION MARKET GARDEN, BASTOGNE, BATTLE OF THE BULGE, BERTCHESGADEN.
"One Last Look Back"
by Robert Burr Smith
In attempting to encapsulate the "506 Experience" from Toccoa to Kaprun (for the latter is where my association with the regiment ended) I will undoubtedly, and almost inevitably, fall prey to a failing memory, on the one hand, and to an admittedly active imagination on the other, which in my case, tends to minimize the retention of the horrors of those years and retains only memories of the warm, the human, the humorous and the heroic happenings of those three years. I will not apologize for those times when my memory differs from yours. I will, however, ask that you remember the immediately-after-action debriefing reports of S.L.A. Marshall, who demonstrated, for all the world to see, that soldiers can't even agree on the details of a small unit action in which they took part hours, or a day, before the mass debriefings he conducted, and forgive me.
The engine behind this aide memoir is that unconquerable warrior, Bill Guarnere, who has been my friend for nearly forty years, and my most severe critic for the same length of time. "Willy-Willy-Deuce" was not my only war, nor is Bill the only superbly brave soldier with whom I have served, but he stands out, head and shoulders, above them all. My hero worship of the incredibly tough "South Philly Wop" is a strictly personal appreciation, but you won't find many Easy Company survivors who will find fault with my selection, right, guys?
Dick Winters, sometime Easy Company platoon leader, company commander, and 2nd Battalion staff officer, is a photo-finish second, but even he (I would bet a bundle) would vote for Bill as "Soldier of any Year". In all wars, and in most company-sized units which sustained heavy casualties, one can say with certainty that the real heroes didn't survive their bravery, but in this case, they did‚?¶ Their bravery, revealed in Normandy, and sustained through Holland and the Bulge, grew stronger with each firefight and each encounter with the enemy, retaining its bright luster until the day they were separated from active service. That neither man was awarded the CMH remains an unsolved mystery to me‚?¶as much as the continuing mystery of Harrison Summer's DS, which exceeds CMH standards by a country mile. The currency of U.S. military decorations has been shamefully devalued in recent years, first by the Air Force with their Cracker Jack Box proliferation of the Air Medal and the Distinguished Flying Cross, and later by the Army, with Bronze Stars going to thousands of non-combatant soldiery. Thru all of this the 101st, almost alone, in my opinion, resisted the temptation to dump cheap decorations on its soldiers‚?¶reserving its two Congressional Medals for men who died in combat within a few days of each other, and its DSC's and Silver Stars to a comparative handful of truly distinguished soldiers. (There were a few exceptions to this general rule, but even these can be suffered in silence because they were so few, and because those awards had redeeming virtue in the mirth they caused among those 'who knew'.)
I digress. In brief, this short work is dedicated in part to Bill Guarnere and Dick Winters, my personal heroes, and in equal part to those who didn't survive the war and were seldom cited for bravery. To the later we owe the greatest gratitude of all‚?¶for to them we owe our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.
'W' Company, in September of 1942, was a tent city on the grassy slope of a hill just below the regimental medical processing facility. The squad tents, as brand new as the citizen soldiers who occupied them, were aligned to form a company street, but W Company was a company in name only. It served as the regiment's in-and-out processing machine, and it was a fast train in both directions. The incoming volunteers (mostly draftees, some enlistees, but all volunteers for parachute training) were frantically busy from morning to night‚?¶drawing clothing and equipment, filling out forms, falling in for meals, marching to examinations, etc. The train was moving much too fast to jump from it and there was never, to my knowledge, a single disciplinary action among the thousand of "in-processees". Few lasting friendships were made during this period, but I made one which was destined to be one of the strongest of my life, one which ended only with the death of my first "Army buddy" in a foxhole near Bastogne in January, 1945. His name was Warren "Skippy" Muck, an upstate New Yorker of great charm and wit, who drew people to him like a magnet. Quiet, unassuming, totally "real", his strength was revealed in combat, where his 2nd platoon mortar section earned a fearsome reputation as Easy Company's most effective heavy weapons element. Skippy was a happy guy, and those who knew him basked in the warmth of that happiness and were happy too. His closest friend, and, inevitably one of mine, was Don Malarkey, another warm, friendly and happy-go-lucky individual who likewise rose to the top of my list of personal heroes like cream to the top of the old-fashioned glass milk bottle.
A collection of reminiscences of her father by Susan Smith Finn over the period following the debut premier of Band of Brothers in Normandy (June 2001) and the completion of the second airing of the HBO series (April 2002).
My father was Robert Burr Smith, with Easy Company from Toccoa to Kaprun. He was a machine gunner with the first platoon. He was mentioned in [BoB] only a handful of times, yet is included in a real long "post war" section at the end of the book, quoting a letter from him to Dick Winters, as he and Dick Winters stayed in touch until my dad died in 1983. I haven't seen him in the series at all except for a brief, passing mention.
Everything I know I have learned just [since spring 2001] by networking, asking questions, poring over old letters, reading every book I can find on the 101st (and I should recommend again the series of books by Donald Burgett of A Company ... they are riveting). Almost unanimously all the children of Easy Company say the same thing, that our dads never talked about the war to us. So I am learning along with all of you. All I knew was that my father was a paratrooper with the 101st and that he revered that association with the highest esteem. I used to brag to my friends that my dad jumped on the beach at Normandy ... well, I was a little off as to where he landed but that was about the gist of what my father shared with us kids.
A quick comment on the lovely Pete Toye. He told me that until [the book] "Band of Brothers", he knew nothing about his dad's war experiences other than he lost his leg in the Battle of the Bulge. It has been emotionally rewarding for him to learn so much about his dad. I think everyone who has a relative that served in this war is finding this to be common, that they simply did not talk about their experiences, at least not to their kids. Buck Compton's daughter told me a similar story about their dad ... all they knew was Buck had two scars on his butt from wounds that he had gotten in the war. They used to like to peek at it while he took a shower! My dad had a scar close to his knee. I knew he got it in the war, but stupidly never thought to ask him to describe the circumstances.
My father actually died in 1983 of lung cancer, not his hang gliding accident. In true Burr Smith larger-than-life fashion, he participated in the Delta Force failed rescue mission to Iran, came back to the US, went hang gliding that next weekend and smooshed his leg to "smith"ereens, almost died from bleeding ulcers, had 2/3 of his stomach removed, decided to retire from the CIA on a medical disability, had a bone transplant from hip to leg to see if he would heal, it never took, and then discovered he had terminal lung cancer. To go through all he had gone through and then to die over what he said was "a lousy pack of cigarettes" was demeaning and horrifying to him. I wish now I had asked.
Just before he died, for Christmas 1982, most of the surviving Easy Company men wrote him a letter to wish him well. These letters gave him great comfort in his last three weeks of life and he was so touched by them. For some reason I saved them all. I have one that [Joe Toye] wrote on December 10, 1982, saying he wasn't much at letter writing but he took the time to send him a few pages. This says so much to me about the men of Easy. Always there for each other. One thing he says that struck me was, "...I know from being around Co E for a few years that you can handle your sickness or another problem that arises." They all had such belief in their strength to tackle anything, it seems.
When my father died in early 1983, Dick Winters sent my mother a card. ... He wrote: "Another memory I have of Burr that goes back to the days in England was on an occasion Burr had a pass to go to London. I wanted a pair of good gloves so I gave him five pounds (at that time five pounds was worth $25). True to form, Burr brought back a real good pair of fur lined gloves that I still have, and wear today, 40 years later." I wonder if he still has them?
Burr Smith is buried at Ft. Rosecrans in Pt. Loma, CA in that beautiful veterans‚?? cemetery. It is a hauntingly beautiful place, high on a cliff overlooking the ocean on one side and the San Diego Bay on the other, probably the prettiest piece of real property in San Diego. It is always so quiet there, and I visit once a year, taking the time to sit and talk with my dad. ‚?¶ My conversation [this year started] with, "Guess who I met this year?!" He would get such a kick out of the fact that I have met and befriended many of his Easy Company pals.
He participated in the Delta Force failed rescue mission to Iran CIA. Burr Smith is buried at Ft. Rosecrans in Pt. Loma, CA in that beautiful veterans‚?? cemetery.
Quote from smith to Winters
‚??I‚??ve been a soldier most of my adult life.¬† In that time I‚??ve met only a handful of great soldiers, and of that handful only half or less come from my WWII experience‚?¶ The rest of us were O.K. ‚?¶ good soldiers by-and-large, and a few were better than average, but I know as much about ‚??Grace Under Pressure‚?? as most men, and a lot more about it then some.¬† You had it.‚??