Pete Smith - Proud
producer of our
John L. Hennessy Coins
Adopted by soldiers - Now 61, Smith reunites
with his '200 fathers'
BY LARRY GIERER
Posted on Sat, Jun. 23, 2007
The soldier had his daily orders. To not carry them out meant
possible demotion. Or worse, being sent to bed without supper . . . It was
1950 when then 4-year-old Pete Smith joined the 728th Military
He wasn’t Pete Smith then, just a naked, nameless child found alone in a
ditch near Seoul, South Korea, by U.S. soldiers. He possibly had
been separated from a family among hordes of North Korean refugees headed
“I was picked up by military police, and became their most precious
possession,” Smith said.
For more than four years during the Korean War, he lived in a tent with
soldiers from A Company, being kept a secret from commanding officers who
might have frowned on the situation.
He would eventually be adopted by one soldier and taken to America, where
he would excel in sports and his studies, join the Army and eventually
retire as a lieutenant colonel.
Earlier this week, members of the 728th held a reunion in
Columbus. Among those gathered was Smith.
“I remember that if I was good, I was promoted; if I was bad, I was
demoted,” he said, sitting in a hospitality room at the Holiday
Inn-Airport North. “I once reached the proud status of second
lieutenant, but it was short-lived.”
His main duty was to get educated. “The soldiers gave me a
dictionary, one dirt-black from usage. I had to learn a certain
number of words every day,” he said.
Later, when he came to the United States, teachers were amazed at how many
English words he knew. Having been raised in an Army tent, he said,
laughing, “I knew a lot of four-letter words.”
He also had to learn the nation’s states, plus the names of every U.S.
president. “The soldiers quizzed me. It was great home-schooling.”
Smith, as usual, was glad to see old friends this week. The reunions
have been going on since 1994, but only recently did he get involved.
Robert Jean, 70, is a retired truck driver living in Marshfield, Mo.
A battalion member, he was hosting a reunion in Springfield, Mo., when he
got a telephone call from Branson, Mo. Smith was on the other end.
“He asked me if he could attend the reunion. He said his name was Pete
Smith. Jean asked if he was in the 728th. Smith
said he wasn’t, but ‘I was a part of it. “ Jean called another
member, Aubrey Smith, and asked if he knew a Pete Smith. He didn’t
but he did know a Pete—a boy he helped care for during the war.
Aubrey Smith, 78, lives in Locust Grove,
Ga. Last year he retired as a salesman for Smith & Wesson. He was a
pistol judge in the 1996 U.S. Olympics in Atlanta. A Louisiana native, he
lied about his age and enlisted when he was 15 in 1945. “They
wouldn’t have cared,” he said of the government. “They needed
He has fond memories of his Korean-born friend. “I was not an MP
myself,” said Aubrey Smith, who rotated out of Korea in 1953. “I was a
mess hall sergeant. Whomever had that role was in charge of Pete.
When the soldiers first found Pete, we thought he was dead. Everyone
just fell in love with him.”
There was an attempt to place the boy in a home. “We couldn’t put
him out on the street. The orphanages had more than they could
handle and not nearly enough food to feed those they had,” he said.
“They figured he’d be better off with us. That’s OK. We didn’t
want to get rid of him anyway.”
“Even to this day I am fascinated by the affinity for children that
American soldiers display in times of war,” Pete Smith said. “They have a
lot of compassion, especially when it comes to children. I’ve seen
hungry soldiers give the last piece of candy out of their pack to a child.
I think the child, for a brief moment, helps him forget the war, the
misery and the hardship of his environment. For a brief time, he can
think of home of his own child and his family.”
And in his case, an American soldier became his family. It was after
Aubrey Smith left Korea that a supply sergeant, John Wesley Smith, a man
who had earned a Bronze Star and Purple Heart during World War II, took
the lead in caring for the boy in the Yong-Dong Po area where the camp was
located. He put the boy in a Korean public school. Later, he
would call his wife, Thelma, and ask her if he could bring home a son.
“One day, he asked me if I wanted to come home with him,” Pete Smith said.
Before they left for California in August 1955, soldiers raised $650 for
his college education. This was at a time soldiers made less than
$70 a month, Jean said. The boy’s first sight of America was San
Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge. “I was in the cockpit with the pilot
as we flew into Travis Air Field,” Pete Smith said. He was the only
child the Smiths would have. “They were the sun and the moon to me,”
he said. The family lived in Arroyo Grande, Calif., a small farming
On Dec. 15, 1961, in San Luis Obispo, Calif., he took the oath to become a
U.S. citizen. “I became one with America,” Smith said.
An Eagle Scout, he would become student body president, go to Chapman
College to get a degree, then use an ROTC scholarship to get a master’s in
psychology. As a soldier, he would serve three tours in Korea, once
as the assistant chief of staff comptroller for the 18th
Medical Command. He is proud of the economic power that his homeland
has become, emerging from its war-torn scars and “dead bodies lying in the
street,” he said, remembering images from his childhood.
“My father said that whatever task I was undertaking, give my best and see
it through to completion, and that’s what I’ve tried to do,” he said.
Now living in San Antonio, he has
a company that makes military
and patriotic coins.
“I retired in 1992 and have had several businesses. They all
failed,” he said, “until this one.”
Both of his parents died in the 1980s, but he still has plenty of family,
many of whom he visited with here. “In a way, I’ve had more than 200
fathers,” he said.