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Laurel Park honors Lt. Hubert M. Smith, a late casualty of WWI

Hubert M. Smith [PHOTO COURTESY OF HUBERT M. SMITH AMERICAN LEGION POST 77] Hubert M. Smith [PHOTO COURTESY OF HUBERT M. SMITH AMERICAN LEGION POST 77]

In a letter to his mother from the battlefield of World War I, Hubert M. Smith showed a wisdom beyond his years.

 

“My attitude toward the war is this — that our Nation is fighting the battle of ages in the noblest of causes and it is my duty to do my part and to sacrifice even my life,” he wrote. “From one point of view it is hard to give up the joys of life and to forgo the realization of a promising future. From the other point of view, it is not so hard, for life is only an incident in a great eternity. This latter point of view I try to take all the time.”

First Lt. Hubert McCrae Smith, 24, would give his life in "the battle of ages" only two days before the armistice that ended the global conflict known in its time as the “war to end all wars.”

Smith was attending law school at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill when the United States entered the war on April 6, 1917. He volunteered for the United States Army, and explained in a letter why he would leave school for the war.

“I believe we are in the right,” he wrote. “I believe we are fighting for a great principle. I believe further, it is better to die with honor than to live without it.”

Commissioned a Second Lieutenant, Smith was promoted to First Lieutenant while serving in France. He was killed in action on Nov. 9, 1918, in Haudimont, France, fighting for the 324th Infantry Regiment, 81st Division. He is buried in Plot C Row 24 Grave 9 at the St. Mihiel American Cemetery, Thiaucourt, France. He was among the last of 116,516 American fighters to die in World War I. Overall, nearly 17 million civilians and soldiers died in the war.

“We had advanced, under terrific bombardment, machine gun fire and gas most of the day and night of Nov 9,” Lt. Marshall T. Spears of the 30th Division, who fought in the regiment alongside Lt. Smith, wrote in a letter to Smith's parents. “About 10 p.m. it became very intense. Hubert was visiting with his men and urging them to stay alert. A few minutes after the bombardment ceased I found him dead. He had been instantly killed by a piece of shell. I covered him with my blanket and carried him to regimental headquarters just before dawn on the morning of the 10th. You will have satisfaction of knowing that he was faithful to the last, and that your offering and sacrifice for the cause of peace was such as to make any father and mother proud, even though their own flesh and blood was given that others might enjoy life more abundantly.”

The French Broad Hustler reported Smith's death on Nov. 28 under a headline that read: “Lieut. Hubert Smith Dies of Wounds in France; One of City’s Brightest Boys.”

"He was a good mixer and very agreeable and his ambition and enthusiasm knew no bounds," the newspaper said. "He was popular at home and in college as well as in camp, and his death removes one of Hendersonville’s most promising young men and brings sadness to many of his friends.”

HubertCareyMayor Carey O'CainCarey O’Cain, a Hendersonville native and the mayor of Laurel Park, knew that this Veterans Day represented a noteworthy date for the town. Smith’s father was W.A. Smith, a lawyer, developer and civic leader, and his son Hubert did have a promising future.

“Celebration of the Armistice was worldwide. Unfortunately, during these celebrations, the family of Willian Alexander Smith, the founder of Laurel Park, had not yet received the news about their son,” O’Cain said on Friday afternoon when the town commemorated Smith’s service with a short ceremony at the town hall. “Hubert had been killed exactly 100 years ago today in Haudimont, France and is buried in Thiaucourt, France.”

W.A. Smith and Ann Haseltine Smith would not hear of their son’s death until Nov. 26.

“Another of their sons, Walter B. Smith, also served in WWI and was severely affected by mustard gas,” O’Cain said. “As a youth in the 1950s and early ’60s, I remember Walter B. Smith passing out wire poppies each Veterans Day on Main Street. The significance of this simple gesture did not have nearly as much of an impact on me then as it does now.”

O’Cain remembered Hubert Smith’s brother and also had a family connection to the flu epidemic spread around the world as the Great War ended.

“One hundred years ago my grandfather, Dr. Butler Rembert O’Cain, succumbed to the virus as he continued to treat the afflicted,” he said. “The death toll of the flu epidemic was enormous. Over 50 million people died worldwide.

“W.A. Smith would only live another four years, dying at the age of 69 and is buried near the Look Homeward Angel in Oakdale Cemetery.”

W.A. and Ann Haseltine Smith’s daughter, Eva, married Erle Stillwell, a prominent architect.

“W.A. Smith has been recognized in Henderson County as the most important man in Hendersonville’s first 100 years,” O’Cain said. “He was the mayor of Hendersonville, served in the state Legislature and was the founder of Laurel Park.”

Smith built the Dummy Line Street Car, two lakes with a connecting canal, ballparks and an incline rail. The newly renovated Rhododendron Lake Nature Park was back then a nine-acre lake with a beach, waterslides, a diving tower and an entertainment pavilion.

“Laurel Park owes a tremendous amount of gratitude to the Smith family for their vision and tenacity,” OCain said. “The very least that we can do is acknowledge their contributions and their losses.”

Soldiers returning from World War I formed American Legion Post 77 and named the post for Hubert M. Smith. On May 4, 1919, friends and family grieved the loss of Smith and the deaths of three other local men in a memorial service at First Baptist Church. The others were Corporal Robert E. Wilcox, U.S. Army; Private Louis Gourdan Durham, Student Army Training Corps; and Fireman George Harper Dukes, U.S. Navy.

(Although several references list Louis Gordon Durham as a soldier who died in World War I, his death certificate states that he was a student at A&E College (N.C. State) when he died Oct. 9, 1918, of pneumonia in Raleigh, according to historian Jennie Jones Giles. "There is no military record," she continued. "He was a student at the Blue Ridge School for Boys when he registered for the draft. He was a son of Thomas L. Durham and Martha Sherrill Durham, and was living in Hendersonville on the 1900 and 1910 census records. His grave site is at Oakdale Cemetery in Hendersonville.")

The town placed a marker at Rhododendron Lake Nature Park to honor Hubert M. Smith.

At the Laurel Park Town Hall, the Henderson County Honor Guard presented the American flag and led the Pledge of Allegiance. Honor Guard leader Pooch Pace pushed a button on a portable CD player and to play “The Star Spangled Banner.” As the service concluded, Pace pushed the button again to play “Taps,” in honor of Lt. Hubert M. Smith, who died exactly 100 years ago that day. The Honor Guard retired the flag.

 

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This story contains information from Jennie Jones Giles's hendersonheritage.com and from the Hubert M. Smith American Legion Post 77.