Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Lot of Lives to Ponder in All Those Little Trees

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Lot of Lives to Ponder in All Those Little Trees

Article excerpt

Byline: Terry Dickson

ST. SIMONS ISLAND | Merrill Smith's neighbors love the little Christmas trees that sparkle in his driveway every year.

They don't look like much by day. They're just little poles with strands of lights anchored to circular bases, mostly. He added four this year. Unlike the others, they look like lighted weeping willows.

But Smith sees something in those lights that others don't.

Christmas comes Dec. 25 every year, but the little trees, some barely waist high, are connected to another date that came only once, June 6, 1944.

It was D-Day when American soldiers waded ashore on the well-defended beaches at Normandy. Many died that day or soon after.

Smith's father, Rudolph Smith, was in the Army, but he was not among the invaders. He served two hitches in the war, both of them stateside near his Georgia home as an instructor of the Browning Automatic Rifle. Some of his students probably died on the beach, and others in the long campaign that ended on VE Day.

He knew of one in particular, a soldier named Merrill, for whom Rudolph Smith named his son.

"His mother was a widow, and he was an only child,'' Smith said of his namesake. "They sent a notice to my dad so he could go and tell his mother."

There was another friend of his father who survived, a man named Lyles from Toccoa, thus Smith's full name, Merrill Lyles Smith.

It didn't stop there. Smith's sister, Montez, is named for the girlfriend of another soldier.

"He was going to come home to marry her after the war. He's buried at Normandy,'' Smith said.

Smith's brother, Robert, is named for a man near Macon, who was a close Army buddy of his father.

After the war, Rudolph Smith, who was one of 10 children, came home to farm like his father. His father owned plenty of land, but Rudolph decided to sink his plow elsewhere rather than farm with his dad. …

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