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Smithfield thanks its veterans during Founders’ Day event.

October 16th, 2015 Posted in Arts and Life

By Rebecca Wheatley

SMITHFIELD — It has been more than 70 years since the beginning of World War II, but Barbara Gutke remembers what her life was like then as a 20-something. As part of the city’s Founders’ Day celebration, the 91-year-old talked about Smithfield’s home front during that war.

SMITHFIELD’s SERVICE — Displays honoring the town’s veterans included canteens and mess kits, medals, photos and other war memorabilia. (Rebecca Wheatley photo)

SMITHFIELD’S SERVICE — Displays honoring the town’s veterans included canteens and mess kits, helmets, medals, photos and other war memorabilia. (Rebecca Wheatley photo)

“Nobody was able to buy a car,” Gutke said. “And gas was rationed, so you didn’t drive if you didn’t have to. My daughter once said that could never happen today because people have to go to work. Well, people had to go to work back then, too.”

Gutke said the hardest part about her life during World War II was the rationing of food, gas, and clothes that happened so the country could support the war effort.

Gutke said even though life was very difficult during the war, she believes living in Smithfield made life a little bit easier. “The Depression wasn’t over until after the war,” she said. “But the people in Smithfield who had a cow or a small farm had it a little better than the rest of the world, I think.”

Ruth Swaner, vice president of the Smithfield Historical Society, said Gutke’s recollections showed how important the war was to residents and the community. That’s why the society decided to honor war veterans for this year’s Founders’ Day last week.

“Some of these veterans aren’t going to be around for much longer,” Swaner said, “so we felt it was necessary to take the time to thank them for their service and honor — not just veterans of World War II, but all of the veterans from Smithfield who have ever served our country.”

As part of the event, the historical society put together several displays with newspapers, uniforms and letters from past wars to show how important military service was to the citizens of Smithfield. Photos of 347 Smithfield residents who have served in America’s wars were included in a framed poster.

Swaner said the displays were put together to show how many Smithfield residents have served since the town was founded As “Summit Creek” in 1857. She said many of the items on display were very dear to her because she has so many relatives who served in the military.

“These men are beloved soldiers who made our country great,” Swaner said. “It brings tears to my eyes to think about them.”

Jeffry Gittins, a lifelong Smithfield resident and former city council member, said these displays were also important to him. His ancestor, Bernard Gittins, was a survivor of the Bataan Death March in Japan during World War II.

“Many were killed, but he wasn’t,” Gittins said. “And that’s what’s so special about these men’s service — it’s one phenomenal story after another.”

During the celebration, members of the society asked several different war veterans and long-time Smithfield citizens to share their experiences during the war. Robert Chambers briefly talked about his 28 years of duty, including his experiences in combat during the Korean War.

“I had very positive experiences,” Chambers said. “If it hadn’t been for the Korean War and the draft, I probably would have never thought about the military and serving my country that way.”

Historical Society President Diane Esplin said the city celebrates its Founders’ Day every year on Oct. 10 with different themes. She said they decided to honor veterans this year because “we enjoy the freedoms we have because of them.”

TP

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