Robert D. Smithart, Corporal, U.S. Military, Truck Driver, Vietnam

Corporal Robert Smithart remembers stepping off the aircraft at Ton Son Nhut airbase in Vietnam, “As we were unloading the new troops, there were body bags waiting to go onboard the plane. I can remember the smell, it made me sick.”

Robert David Smithart was born Might 16, 1944, within the Carolina Neighborhood in Covington County, Alabama. His mother and father have been Cleve and Gladys Smithart. Robert attended Straughn Elementary Faculty, then transferred to Andalusia Excessive Faculty the place he graduated in 1963. Whereas in highschool, he labored at Stokes Grocery after college and on Saturdays. After commencement, he labored at Stokes Grocery, Pruitt’s Cleaners and Andalusia Grocery earlier than he was drafted in 1965. Robert had 5 brothers that additionally served within the army; Max within the Military, Billy within the Military in Korea, Leonard within the Military in Korea, Cecil within the Military [during the Vietnam War but sent to Germany because of not allowing two family members in a war zone] and Carlos within the Marine Corps.

After his induction on July 27, 1965, Robert was despatched to Fort Gordon, Georgia, for fundamental coaching. Upon completion of fundamental, he was assigned to Fort Hood, Texas, the place he underwent coaching within the upkeep and operation of vehicles. His specialty was the “deuce and a half,” the 2 and one-half-ton truck. After Fort Hood, he was promoted to Corporal and given a brief depart earlier than transport out to Vietnam. He left Oakland, California, on Might 1, 1966, arriving in Vietnam a day later after a refueling cease at Wake Island.

After touchdown in Saigon and the encounter with the physique luggage of lifeless troopers, Robert was flown to Quy Knon and assigned to the 58th Transportation Firm. That may be their most important working base for the following yr though they might be briefly primarily based at Pleiku and An Khe for brief durations of time.

Robert recalled a few of his time spent at Quy Knon, “You could never relax, whether at a firebase or our own depot. There was full-time guard duty and the sound of a gun-shot put everybody on alert. When we stopped at night, we slept between the dual-wheels of the truck. On the road, we were constantly alert for sniper fire. My scariest moment happened during one trip when my passenger-side window was blown out by a sniper’s bullet.”

Drivers within the transportation corporations lived in a relentless state of exhaustion. Robert said that in any given month, he would possibly drive day by day, “When we got back from a trip, it might be nearly dark but we had to maintain the truck and get it reloaded for the next day’s trip. If you had a flat tire, you fixed it that night. You carried your rifle at all times.”

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Often, Robert drove his commanding officer’s jeep, or manned the M-60 machine gun mounted on the again. Whether or not he drove the truck or the jeep, he traveled on roads that have been in disrepair that challenged even the most effective drivers. He recalled the situations, “Even the paved roads were full of pot-holes that hadn’t been filled. All the bridges had been blown up by the Viet Cong or NVA and that caused to us to have to slow down and detour, making us sitting-ducks.” He continued, “We worked extra-long hours, seven days a week. Every day looked the same – if you didn’t have a pocket calendar to mark off the days, you never knew what day it was….You left every morning carrying supplies, ammunition or heavy weapons, escorted by MPs driving gun-jeeps. We delivered to infantry units, artillery units or airborne units at out-lying firebases.” Robert mentioned that they have been welcomed by everybody they served however that the airborne models have been a bit of egocentric with the usage of their services.

“Deuce and a half” truck just like the truck pushed by Smithart in Vietnam.
[Photo: Pinterest]

After Corporal Robert Smithart completed his tour in Vietnam, he returned to the States and was despatched to Fort Lewis, Washington, the place he was discharged in Might 1967. He had acquired the Protection Service Medal, the Vietnam Service Medal and the Vietnam Marketing campaign Medal.

After returning residence, Robert met and married Jean Mitchell from Crimson Stage, Alabama, on October 6, 1967. Robert bought insurance coverage for a time, then labored at a comfort retailer earlier than taking a job with the Delchamps grocery retailer on the Covington Mall. He finally purchased the shop with a associate. They operated it as United Tremendous till Robert’s retirement in 1999.

Robert and Jean have three youngsters, Michael [Amy], who’s superintendent of Opp Metropolis Colleges, Melissa [Will] Crenshaw, who lives in Greenville and Christy [Daniel] Nelson, who lives in Pike Street. They’re the proud grandparents of seven grandchildren.

John Vick

The writer thanks Robert and Jean Smithart for serving to inform his story. Robert grew to become an in depth buddy with the writer’s late brother and Vietnam veteran, Jimmy Vick, after they have been staff at Delchamps.

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