One man’s story is community’s enduring legacy

By D. C. Moody dmoody@civitasmedia.com

May 27, 2014

PICKENS — Memorial Day is a day of remembrance of those fallen in the service of the United States, brave men and women who gave their lives in the furtherance of freedom and democracy.

Pickens County has produced more than its fair share of heroes, those willing to give their lives, with each deserving to be highlighted for their selflessness, each with a story worthy of being told.

To tell them all is impossible, but to find the embodiment of those qualities locally isn’t difficult, and while it may be the story of only one man, it is indeed the story of a community, and the winning of the United States’ highest honor.

Furman L. Smith was born May 11, 1925, in Pickens County where he would reside his entire life until the outbreak of World War II. In July 1943, at the tender age of 18 Smith enlisted in the U.S. Army.

Smith was assigned to Company L, 14th Infantry Regiment, 35th Infantry Division as a private following boot camp. Smith’s military career was far from uneventful preceding the Allied invasion of Italy in 1944 with no idea what lie ahead.

It would be in Italy where Smith would leave his indelible mark.

By this time the defense of Italy was comprised almost entirely of German units, dug in heavily with their backs to the wall fighting a two front war slowly wearing away at the Nazis’ ability to wage war. The terrain was mountainous and each foot of ground was gained at a high price.

Smith and Company L were advancing just outside of Lanuvio, Italy, on May 31, 1944, only 20 days removed from his 19th birthday. Unexpectedly a German attack, overwhelming in size, hit Company L and orders to withdraw were soon issued with inured soldiers still on the field.

Company L withdrew, Smith did not.

Instead, Smith chose to stay behind to defend his injured comrades. The German numbers were far too many and soon Smith was over run, dying in the defense of others.

The United States government, in recognition of Smith’s service to his country, awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor (posthumously) on Jan. 24, 1945, with the following citation from the office of the President of the United States:

“The President of the United States of America, in the name of Congress, takes pride in presenting the Medal of Honor (Posthumously) to Private Furman L. Smith, United States Army, for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty on 31 May 1944, while serving with Company L, 135th Infantry Regiment, 34th Infantry Division, in action at Lanuvio, Italy. In its attack on a strong point, an infantry company was held up by intense enemy fire. The group to which Private Smith belonged was far in the lead when attacked by a force of 80 Germans. The squad leader and one other man were seriously wounded and other members of the group withdrew to the company position, but Private Smith refused to leave his wounded comrades. He placed them in the shelter of shell craters and then alone faced a strong enemy counterattack, temporarily checking it by his accurate rifle fire at close range, killing and wounding many of the foe. Against overwhelming odds, he stood his ground until shot down and killed, rifle in hand.”

These qualities displayed by Pickens County’s Furman L. Smith embody those of all fallen heroes and the community which instilled them.