“We Build, We Fight” was the motto of the U.S. Navy Seabees and Sun City resident Eugene Smith embodies that motto as he is about to turn 100.
Eugene Smith was born in Cowell, Missouri Sept. 26, 1922, to Ed and Oneia Smith. He tried farming but was not very successful. His mother was a math teacher.
When Smith was about 4, his family moved to El Dorado, Kansas where his father found work. He sent for his family and they moved all their belongings on a rail car and the family traveled by train. Their “new” house was a chicken house, which Smith’s mother kept as clean as she could. After about 6 months the family moved to a 4-room house after his father got a job with Stillman making 35 cents per hour and the house rented for $7 dollars per month.
Smith went to school in El Edorado and during his snior year in high school he entered an apprenticeship program with Skelly Oil, where he learned how to weld and recognize different metals. Smith started earning money after high school and saved up enough money to buy a parrot, which his mother and father questioned. He kept the bird until he enlisted in the service in 1942. He also saved up enough money to buy a Harley motorcycle for $150.
Soon after leaving Skelly, Smith went to work for Fraharf for 90 cents per hour, while still learning the craft of welding. The company transferred him to Ft. Wayne, Indiana, where he welded cages for gun turrets on tops of aircraft. He got married to his first wife Dec. 10,1942. After he was married, he left his hometown. He enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1942 and was in charge of a group of men from Ohio to California. They would pick up men along the way and every time they would make a train stop, the men would party. But when it was time to get back on the train, the men were always ready to go on with the trip.
Smith was stationed in Port Hueneme, California, where he went to school and was later ordered to San Francisco, California to be shipped overseas. His rank was 3rd class Shipfitter. He was a very good welder and crane operator. Jerry Dyer was an officer that took a liking to Smith and took him into his command.
Smith was given a task of helping repair two ships damaged at Pearl Harbor — the battleships USS Tennessee and USS California. The bow and aft were damaged on the ships. The Navy put them into dry dock and once the ships were in dry dock, the sailors would work 12 hours on and 12 off. Smith and the men on the ships took about 90 days to compete their work and the ships were put back into service.
Smith was a hard worker and one time he actually got hurt. He was working on a runway on an island and the runway was about 6,000 feet. The runway came under fire at one end. Smith took cover on a D6 Caterpillar and he raised the bucket for protection. After the attack, one of his buddies called out to him to make sure he was OK. He jumped down from the D6 and twisted his ankle really bad, damaging ligaments, and was inactive for a few weeks. This was the only time Eugene could not work.
Smith’s first wife died in the 1990s. He remarried and has been married for 29 years. He is still living his life to the fullest at age 99. He will be 100 in September. He loves when people come over and visits him.