Excerpts from the book…

Johnny Smith

Johnny Smith is of Mountain Maidu and Pit River heritage. He was very gracious and spoke about his time in the service on October 28, 2001 at his home in Greenville. It was getting dark on a cold evening and he had just finished stacking a cord of wood when I arrived.

I was born in April, 1921 high on a ridge near the Ingle Mine (near Greenville). That’s where my dad worked. He was a blacksmith, and his first shop was right on the crown of the hill way up in the wilderness. It was in 1931 or ’32 when they closed it down.
I had to go to Lincoln School here in the valley. Mostly Indians went to that school. There were very few white children who went there. We got along pretty nice together. We didn’t know anything about racism at that time.
I never had any brothers but I had three sisters. My parents were Seymour and Louise Smith. Dad was Maidu and mom was Pit River. I went to the Greenville High School here and I ran track and played in the band. I played the drum and cymbals.
We had quite a large band for a small school. We had a great music teacher. We had a really nice time. Tommy Merino also played the drums. He and I worked on a ranch while we went to high school. We milked 25 cows in the morning before school. At night we’d ride the saddle horses to watch the show. It was a good life. It seemed like when we were young we didn’t have time to get into mischief. We were always busy.
Did you ever go to the Bear Dance when you were young?
Oh yeah, dad used to be the bear a lot of times. They used to have them at the end of the valley here and also at other places here in Greenville. There were quite a few when I was young. To me, it’s something that should never be stopped.
It’s good education for the younger generation. They should try to accept the way the older Indians used to think. If they’re interested they should participate.
When you were in high school did you hear about what was going on in Europe?
We heard about a lot. They would tell us about things. It seemed to me that when we were young we didn’t take heed of things. When the war did start I was piling lumber in the lumberyard. My partner was drafted. He was at least 35 years old.
That’s when I came to my senses. This was serious. If they got him then we’d have to go. All you do is keep working and prepare yourself. One of these days that letter will get to you. It finally came! I had to take a physical in Monterey.
Were you married before the war?
Yes, I married Gladys in 1940. It was pretty hard to be apart from her. But they drill you so much it becomes your life. You think about home; it’s human nature. But you had to think about other things, you had to.
I went to Little Rock, Arkansas for boot camp. I was in the Army. It was hot! I didn’t mind the training because I was in pretty good shape from handling lumber. My training never bothered me. If I had to do it I had to do it. I just did what they said. I never ran into another Indian man until I went to Fort Benning, Georgia. That man was from around Maine.
They needed volunteers for the Airborne. They showed you the nice boots, nice jump pants, nice jump coat and a scarf. You also got 50 dollars more in pay. So I decided I’d take it. When they wanted volunteers I stepped out there. There were only two of us that volunteered. That’s when they sent me to Fort Benning.
What did they train you to do?
They trained me how to land from an airplane. They put you on a platform and had you jump and turn, jump and turn. They’d show you how to roll. There was a lot of running and boxing. We had a regular carbine.
The M1 was a great rifle too. I took care of it. They told you that it’s your baby! They made you run on big poles, climb a rope and do lots of push-ups!
Will you describe the first time you jumped out of a plane?
First they took us down to where all the planes were. They had C-47s and put you in a big room. There were different groups of guys. They had 24 of us facing each other. The only thing that bothered me was they told us that WACs had packed the parachute.
Before, that was your own responsibility. You packed the ‘chute. But when the time comes it wasn’t that way! That bothered me. They would show you how the ‘chute works and how not to get the line tangled up. That’s the only thing that bothered me, was to have someone else pack the ‘chute. You’d be a goner before you could even start!
But you made it!
Yeah, I made it. When I jumped it didn’t bother me. The guy behind you would check to make sure you’re hooked up all right, and so on. On your first jump you’re tumbling then you look down and wait for that ‘chute to pop.
I had my hand right on that reserve ‘chute. You’re trained real well and you feel good when that ‘chute opens. Then you have to feel for the wind when you come down. You have to turn and always look straight ahead. They train you so good that you go right into your role. But sometimes the wind will turn you and you belly flop! When you come down, you hit with a bang! You hit pretty hard.
After that they had us practice a night jump. To me the night jump was a lot easier than a day jump. That wasn’t too bad. It was exciting, but a lot of boys got hurt. A lot of them hurt their back, or broke their legs. You had to have five jumps to qualify. Then you get your wings, and your patch, and the fancy stuff!
What was it like to take a ship across the Atlantic?
Oh, I know what a sailor feels like! That was a ride! We were three days out from the Azores Islands and we were on the tail end of the convoy. Our ship got torpedoed. It was just about dusk when it happened.
To this day I don’t know why, but I was in the second hold, and I started up and got halfway up the ladder to get on the deck when it happened. I don’t know why I came up. It was one of those things, you know?
The first thing I saw was sailors running when the ship got hit. I got up on top of the deck and hung onto the railing. The ship started to tip. The captain came over and said not to jump. He said the ship could tip 45 degrees and not tip over. But man, you had to hang on for dear life. There was a lot of water and it was heavy. The sailors got down there and shut down the hole.
We lost several men. There were so many guys panicking and running. I was all right and the men in my bunk were all right. That was a Victory ship but I can’t remember the name of it.
We made it to the Azores Islands and stayed there four days. The convoy left us there and then sent a destroyer back to get us. On the fourth day there was an English ship that came by. Man that ship stank! It was called the Acheron Newcastle. I learned to eat porridge on that ship. You’d put chow on the table and everything would slide off and fall to the floor. I laugh about it now. That was quite an experience.
What division were you in?
At first I didn’t know. When you’re going over there they don’t tell you. After I got ready to go to France they said I was a replacement for the 82nd Airborne. Some men were replacements for the 101st Airborne; some were in the 82nd. I was in the 325th Glider Infantry Regiment.
Can you describe what the glider was like?
The glider has no motor and they put 12 of us inside. It has a rope attached to the glider. The C-47 plane winds up and pulls that glider, then pop! It shoots the glider out like that. I was sitting right behind the co-pilot. He was wringing wet with sweat. I was sweating it out too.
It was just like being in a kite. There was just a little ply board seat, aluminum tubing and cloth covering it. It was so narrow you’d sit knee-to-knee in that kite. Some of the boys got sick, and you’re sitting there and can’t do anything. You just take it.
Oh man, I’m telling you, I sure felt sorry for those boys. I did the best I could; it didn’t bother me. I would sit there and not feel anything. I didn’t feel the hype. But there would be some guys next to you that would get scared, and that’s real scary.
Eventually they eliminated the gliders. There were too many guys that got killed. We were just really lucky. The Germans had some big ties in the trees on the ground at the drop zone. They had some really good intelligence.
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Johnny Smith,19421.
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Johnny Smith,2001.
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Glenn Moore Sr. in Paris 1944 and at home 2001.
Excerpts from the book…

Glenn Moore, Sr.

Glenn Moore Sr. was a good friend with my grandfather Stan. They knew each other from their time at Sherman and they visited each other often over the years. When I first met Glenn he recognized my last name and called me “That little Maidu boy.”
I didn’t know at the time that he knew my grandfather. Glenn is of Yurok ancestry and has been a traditional singer and dancer in the Brush Dance ceremonies of the Yurok people for many decades. He and his wife Dorothy agreed to meet with me at their house on November 8, 2001.


I was born on the Klamath River near a little village called Sregon. There’s a big rock known as Moore’s Rock a little ways from Sregon, that’s where I was born. I was born in 1920, but the BIA (Bureau of Indian Affairs) has me born in 1919. I don’t have a birth certificate so I went by that age.
I was in a big family. There were 11 children altogether. I had an older brother named Bennett. He was in the infantry at the end of World War One. He and his uncle Homer Cooper went to Fort Lewis in Washington, I think that’s what it was called. While they were in basic training the war ended.
When World War Two came along I was already in the service. At that time they told you if you’re drafted they put you where they want you. If you enlist you get to choose where to go. I was visiting my brother Bennett when he told me this. He had been in the Army infantry during World War One.
In the second war he was in the Navy, and had traveled all over the world. He was a quiet man. He was killed in New Guinea in 1942. He had been drafted and they had sent him to the same base there in Washington that he had been in during World War One. He wrote to me when I was at school at Lowry Field in Colorado.
I was in armament school. He had said he was going to go to the Pacific. I wrote back a little bit. The last time I saw him he had told me to enlist in the Air Corps, not the infantry. So that’s what I did, I enlisted in the Air Corps. I listened to my older brother.
But going back to his story, it wasn’t very long when I received his letter. He had been shipped out. I then got a telegram from the Red Cross that he was killed in New Guinea. So I came home and helped my mother take care of things.

Where did you go to school when you were young?
My mother and father couldn’t read or write. If I got a bad report card they couldn’t tell the difference! I got by. I got to Sherman and that wasn’t too bad. You go to school half a day and then work in the shop half a day.
I never got good grades there, either. At armament school, which was a pretty tough school, it had to do with all the weapons on an airplane; whether it was bombs, or later on, rockets and sights on the bombers. They had a special bomb-sight school right across from us. That place was guarded 24 hours a day. We didn’t have anything to do with the bomb sighting. They had other guys go over there. We had 50-caliber machine guns and 20-millimeter cannons. They even had a 37-millimeter cannon on an Air Cobra. I don’t think it worked out very good.
Anyway, when I was going to school there at Lowry Field I would see these yard birds, they called them yard birds; they would be walking outside picking up cigarette butts and filling up the coal buckets. They burned coal in the classroom stove. I talked to some of those guys; they had washed out of school and were waiting to go in the infantry or as engineers. As soon as they got enough of them they shipped them out.
I got to thinking about what my brother had said, and decided I better study. I had a hard time; some of those guys went to college and it was easier for them. We had to synchronize the guns. The bullets had to go through the propellers, so it had to be synchronized. Otherwise you’d shoot the props off. That had to be pretty precise. There’s a lot of math involved. There was electrical work too.
So anyway, we finally graduated. The course usually took about nine months but I think they cut it way down. While I was going to school there I was waiting for a furlough. I didn’t have any money but I was lonesome, I wanted to come home.
My folks didn’t have any money and I didn’t want to bother them. Lowry Field is a little east of the Rocky Mountains near Denver. I used to look up at the white mountains. I used to hitchhike a lot.
I thought I would hitchhike up over those mountains. I was watching this list where they put people’s names down for a furlough. About that time we were listening to the radio that Pearl Harbor was bombed. They had all military personnel back to their units. So they tore up that list and we were in for the duration.
I enlisted for three years. When I enlisted, during World War One they treated the draftees so bad… I used to work with a fellow named Tim Safford. He was in the infantry, he went to France. He said when they went on the troop trains going East they wouldn’t even let the draftees out of there.
If they did get out, they had guards watching them. The enlistees did whatever they wanted. So when World War Two came along, they wanted to do away with that and kind of make up for it. So then the first three months I got 21 dollars a month and the draftees got 31 dollars a month. They were treated pretty well, too.
When I got through school they were shipping everybody out. Some went to Hamilton Field; others went all over the United States. My barracks were getting empty; I wondered when they were going to ship me out, you know.
Finally, they said to report to this hangar. It was three miles down the way. They said I was going to be an instructor. I couldn’t even recite a poem in front of a classroom, how the hell could I be an instructor? I lost some sleep over that! They sent me to another month of school.
I started teaching small arms and ammunitions. I just studied that part of it. I had a hard time, but I got better. On the Fourth of July they opened up Buckley Field farther east. Fighters used to go out there and practice their gunnery. So anyway, I went to Buckley Field. Some went to Yale.
There were only three armament schools; Yale, Buckley Field and Lowry Field. Lowry Field was for the heavy bombers like the B-24 and the B-17s. They taught air gunnery there, too. Fighters had a kind of simple bomb run because they didn’t carry too many bombs. I was in a fighter-bomber, the P-38s, P-51s and P-47s. The fighter-bombers were kind of in-between the fighters and bombers.
I stayed there a couple years then I got kind of tired doing the same thing. By that time I was teaching electrical wiring for armament controls. I got transferred over to a mobile unit and went to California. I was training with this P-38 mobile unit.
These guys had been there for a year before I got there. They had come from Maine. I joined them as the armament man. We traveled all around, mostly on the West Coast. Then they told us we had to go overseas. We went to Denver to our headquarters. I was on detached service the rest of the time.
We went overseas to England and were attached to the Eighth Air Force. The Eighth Air Force had P-38s. They flew the escorts. We went to quite a few English bases there. We had a P-38 that was all stripped down in a trailer. Those guys rigged the trailer so it could ship out.
There was one big Royal Air Force base about halfway up England; they had all the big bombers. Those bombers look small compared to what they have now. But they were losing officers and good pilots. Every day somebody else would go down.
There were fuel tank problems; there were belly tanks and other tanks on the plane, and you have to remember to switch the tanks when you get a warning. Some of the guys would forget to switch the tanks and they ran out of fuel. Things like that happened.
Do you remember which ship you were on when you went to England?
The Queen Mary. I don’t remember the ship I came back on, it was a small American ship. Coming over, we crossed the North Atlantic up near Iceland in March. I remember it was cold outside.