Malcolm Smith is a navy veteran who served in World War II. He was born on October 11, 1916, and enlisted in the U.S. Navy on December 12, 1942. He is currently serving as the bugler at the American Legion Post 31 in Tuscumbia Alabama. Smith was working at Reynolds Security when he heard the news of the Japanese attack of the naval base at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. He had tried enlisting in the navy before the attack, but was turned away for medical reasons. However, at the age of 26, he was called to serve and was sent to an examination center in Birmingham, Alabama. This time he was cleared and then sent to a service school in California, where he spent thirteen months training as an electrician. After Smith’s training, he was given orders that he would serve on the USS Fillmore (APA-83), a Gilliam Class Attack Transport vessel. During his service on board, Smith worked at a three-chair barber shop. Each soldier on the ship was assigned to a battle station, and Smith was appointed as a gunner on a 20mm anti-aircraft gun. He took night classes while aboard through Tandy Leather Company, where he learned leatherworking skills that he found valuable after his time in the navy.
Mr. Smith experienced many memorable events during his time on board the USS Fillmore. Although the Fillmore was not a battleship, it encountered several close calls and was very near some fatal incidences that occurred in the pacific. The most significant event Smith recounts was his perspective and closeness in proximity to the attack on the USS Indianapolis. He explained how the USS Fillmore had picked up 100 Japanese prisoners of war at Wake Island and transported them back to the naval base in San Francisco. They stayed in San Francisco for two weeks, at which time the San Francisco Peace Conference was occurring. They then set out for the Philippines, making several stops along the way. The USS Indianapolis was leaving San Francisco at the same time. The USS Indianapolis was a heavy cruiser, just a little smaller than a battleship. They were headed to the Philippines also, but stopped first at the Island of Tinian near Guam. The USS Indianapolis was carrying components of the world’s first operational atomic bomb. They had just dropped off the components at the Island and were given orders to join the USS Idaho in Leyte, Philippines when they were attacked. On July 26, 1945, the USS Indianapolis was struck by two torpedoes from an I-58 Japanese submarine, and the ship rapidly began to sink. Of the 900 survivors that made it into the shark-infested waters, only 317 survived the attack. The survivors were not rescued for almost five days after the attack occurred. Smith remembers being delayed behind a medical ship en route to Leyte, Philippines, and later found out it was the one of the ships rescuing survivors from the USS Indianapolis. In addition to the USS Indianapolis, Smith was also close in proximity to the attack on the USS Franklin and provides aircraft carrier photos of the Franklin after it was struck. The USS Fillmore had just arrived in the Philippines and was waiting alongside 1,500 other ships to make an invasion when they heard the news of the Japanese surrender. He provides pictures of the celebration that commenced.
These are just a few of the many events that Malcolm Smith experienced during his time in the navy. He was honored with several awards for his service, including the Pacific Ribbon WW2 Victory Battle, the Occupation Japan Ribbon, the American Defense Medal, the Good Conduct Medal, the Cold War Medal, and the American Legion Medal.
Interviewed by Kim Copeland on June 22, 2010.