Mel Smith is flanked by his daughter, Barbara Wright, left, and great-granddaughter, right, as friends and fellow veterans celebrate his 99th birthday at the Madeira Beach VFW.
MADEIRA BEACH – Mel Smith, a U.S. Navy World War II veteran, celebrated his 99th birthday May 23 at the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 4256.
Smith joined the Navy in 1944 and served on an LST (a large combat landing craft) throughout the Pacific, including Okinawa, New Guinea and the Philippines. On Jan. 9, 1945, Smith’s LST was among a group of three such landing craft from which Gen. Douglas MacArthur waded on to a beach in triumphant return to the Philippines.
Prior to joining the Navy, Smith was a civilian welding contractor at Pearl Harbor. On Dec. 7, 1941, he found himself in the midst of the Japanese attack and vividly recalled seeing the attacking planes up close.
“They were coming right at us and we all hit the ground,” he said in a press release from the VFW post. “They were so low that I could see some of the pilots in the cockpits.”
Smith continued, “Though they looked like they were coming right at us, their targets were our ships in the harbor about a mile away.”
Smith left the Navy in 1946, and, using his service experience with diesel engines, worked for a truck leasing company for 23 years. In 1964, he bought 40 acres of land in Wisconsin. “There, I chopped down oak trees and, with that wood, built a house,” he said.
Smith, a widower, has three children, eight grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.
Currently, Smith volunteers at the Bay Pines VA Hospital, staffing the information desk at the facility’s outpatient entrance. Since 2001, he has logged more than 7,400 volunteer hours.
Asked what his secret to life is, Smith said, “Believe in yourself.”