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Finding PFC Smith: Solving the puzzle brings pride to the family of a fallen WWII soldier

A Battle Creek soldier killed in World War II came home to his final resting place Monday. His family reflected on his influence and his sacrifice.

The mourners filled sixty cars at Private First-Class Lowell Dalton Smith’s funeral on Monday at Fort Custer National Cemetery.

At the service, an honor guard stood in the drizzle and fired a three-gun volley for Smith, whose 101st birthday was Sunday.

One evening a couple months ago, his family gathered in Smith’s grandson’s home on a country road near Battle Creek. They recalled how, in just eight months of service, Smith wrote over 80 letters to “Ada and the snappers," his wife and two young boys. Joe was five, and Paul was just a toddler when his dad was drafted in June of 1944.

A black and white photo of Lowell Smith in civilian clothes. He wears a white shirt with the sleeves rolled up and, black pants and suspenders.
Courtesy photo.
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Lowell D. Smith family.
Lowell D. Smith was born in Arkansas and lived in Denver before he moved to Battle Creek in 1937 where he worked at Weston Biscuit Co. before being drafted.

For much of the last 77 years the family feared he died in a Nazi prisoner of war camp. They imagined him suffering. In June, they learned his actual fate in a report from the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA). The DPAA had identified Smith’s remains from DNA samples provided by his sister years earlier. The report includes a photo of Smith’s almost-complete skeletal remains and evidence that PFC Lowell Smith likely didn't suffer, at least for long.

His son Paul tapped the report.

“It wasn’t like if I was eight or nine years old when he died. I would have known him. But like I said, this in here is the only memory I’ve got of my dad. That picture, that skeleton. I don't remember him, nothing, I was a year and a half old. Can you remember back when a year and a half?”

It turns out Smith died from a gunshot wound in France on Jan. 21, 1945. The last day of the Battle of Reipertswiller. His company was trying to rescue soldiers the Germans had surrounded.

“The Germans had pinned them down and they sent my dad's company in there to try to get them out and they were driven back three times. And third time my dad didn't come back with them.”

Nolan Smith is Lowell Smith’s great-grandson. He’s one of twenty great-grandchildren, three of whom were named after Lowell, and seven grandchildren.

“We learned about this stuff in school and I knew that my great grandfather was in World War II but I didn't quite relate,” said Nolan Smith.

“But with this whole thing coming up really hits home and is an eye opener to what they really went through and what they were up against and what they faced. My great-grandpa got sent up a hill to, in my eyes - and just listening to everyone talk around here - to a battle they knew they weren’t going to win. And he got sent anyways. And there’s nothing he could do about and he did it. He went there with honor. It’s just eye-opening.”

In one of his last letters home, Lowell Smith asked Ada to tell Joe and Paul “to be good boys.”

“Well, it's almost Christmas,” he wrote. “I guess I won't make it home by then. Ha! Well, maybe I'll make it by next Christmas. Say Ada if you get a chance to send me a pencil. It would be okay. I haven't got anything to write with. Well, I guess I'll close for now. Wishing you all a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. Love Lowell.”

His son Paul is proud of his dad, but sad. His father died at 24, just four months before the war ended in Europe. Paul’s brother Joe didn’t live to find out what happened.

The family chose a simple inscription for Lowell's grave marker: “Home at last.”

Leona has worked as a journalist for most of her life - in radio, print, television and as journalism instructor. She has a background in consumer news, special projects and investigative reporting.