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A WWII veteran, skeet-shooting champion, Fairfax Catholic turns 100

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In the past 100 years, Jim Smith has more than witnessed American history — he’s been a part of it.


He was born Dec. 6, 1920, in Cleveland, Ohio, to John Thomas and Mary Jane “Polly” Smith. He and his two siblings, John and Irene, were raised Catholic.


As a teen, he joined the U.S. Marine Corps, which he considers the best decision he ever made. “I don’t think (my parents) knew precisely what to do with me,” said Smith. “The Marine Corps did.”


During boot camp, he was deemed “ripe for technical school,” he said. So he was sent to Marine Corps Base Quantico to become a radio operator, and later got advanced training at the U.S. Navy Radio Materiel School in Washington. After graduating, he joined the 1st Marine Raider Battalion, a special operations force created during World War II. “I did well with the Raider Battalion and I loved it,” said Smith. “That was the greatest bunch of guys I was ever with.”


During the war, the Raiders fought to wrest control of the Solomon Islands from the Japanese forces. In August 1942, Smith and other Raiders landed on Tulagi, the island that housed Japanese headquarters on the Solomon Islands. “They put up a heck of a fight. Our casualty rate was quite high,” he said. “I was wounded by a grenade, got my whole right side from shoulder to ankle. Doc said not to worry, he’d take care of it, and he did a pretty good job.”


For his service during the monthslong Guadalcanal Campaign, Smith was awarded two Silver Stars and a Purple Heart. The official documentation for the Silver Stars reads, “With his patrol subjected to intense Japanese machine-gun and rifle fire, Sergeant Smith, disregarding his own personal safety, worked his way, with great difficulty, around the enemy's flank and from this position charged the Japanese forces, thus neutralizing the hostile fire and enabling his patrol to destroy the enemy in that area.”


About a week later, he was “separated from his Communication Platoon when the positions of his battalion were under severe attack by the Japanese. Sergeant Smith, on his own initiative, proceeded with four of his comrades to the front lines and fiercely engaged the enemy in close combat.”


Smith spent much of the rest of the war working as a communicator at a large supply depot in New Zealand. When the war ended, he was shipped off to Honolulu, then the mainland. “Oh boy, it felt so great,” he said.


After another year in the Marines, he headed to the East Coast to work for Remington Rand, a machine manufacturing company. It was there he met his wife, Dorothy. They were married in a side chapel of the Cathedral of St. Matthew in Washington. The couple had five children: Kevin, Margaret, Diedre, Christopher and Patrice.


In his late 20s, Smith wanted to rejoin the Marines, but he was just a few weeks too old. Instead, he was told to go to 2430 E Street, then the headquarters of the CIA, where they were looking for people just like him. For the next four decades, Smith traveled around the world working for the agency.


His wife Dorothy died after a long illness. He met his second wife, Carole, while working for the CIA. The two were married in London in 1988, the year Smith retired. “We came home and lived happily ever after,” said Carole.


Smith has stayed busy in retirement, becoming a champion skeet shooter. “It was natural for a Marine,” he said. He and Carole would travel to San Antonio so he could compete in the annual World Skeet Championship. When he was 90, he won the skeet shooting championship for senior citizens.


In 2000, Smith was the U.S. Marine Corps representative for the groundbreaking of the World War II Memorial in Washington. He still has the golden ceremonial shovel as well as other memorabilia from his time in the Marines. The Raider Battalion flag flies next to the stars and stripes at his front door.


For many years, Smith served as a lector at his parish, St. Leo the Great Church in Fairfax, and as a member of the Knights of Columbus. Before the pandemic, friends from the parish would often visit, said Carole. More recently, friends and well-wishers were able to say hello at the Dec. 7 100th birthday parade in front of his home, organized by the Knights.


When asked what advice he would give others, his words were rooted in his faith, “Go to Communion regularly.”


© Arlington Catholic Herald 2021