Robert Lee Smith was born at McMinn County, Tennessee on 12 December 1917. He was the fourth child of thirteen, son of Andrew Oscar Smith and Katie Artance Prigmore. He attended grammar school, and according to his registration card, was a housemen and yardmen before he enlisted on 26 May 1942 at Camp Forrest, Tennessee. At the time of his enlistment, he was residing with his sister and brother in law, Mabel Lola and Odie Henry Rucker at 340 Chester Street in Athens, Tennessee. Robert Smith and his brother-in-law Odie Rucker were employed by Dr. William Edwin Foree and Dr. Carey Oliver Foree at the Foree Hospital on W. Washington Street in Athens. His father died in 1943.

The 614th Destroyer Battalion was activated on 25 July, 1942 at Camp Carson, Colorado and trained through the late summer of 1944. Reorganized as a towed battalion in May 1943.  Arrived in England on 7 September, 1944, landed at Utah beachhead beginning 8 October. Deployed to Metz and supported operations against the Siegfried Line nearby in November and December.  Shifted to Hagenau Forest area.  Continued to support operations against Siegfried Line fortifications until late March, 1945.  Performed occupation duties in early April, then joined race to Innsbruck, Austria, and Brenner Pass. The 3rd Platoon, Company C, of the 614th was the first African-American unit to receive a Distinguished Unit Citation during World War II. They received credit for the Northern France, Rhineland, Ardennes-Alsace and Central Europe campaigns.

The battalion’s last combat casualties were on 2 May near Scharnitz, Austria, losing seven men ( 5 KIA, 1 WIA, 1 captured) of a task force pushing towards Innsbruck. Killed that day were T/5 Robert L. Smith, Lt. Joseph L. Keeby, S/Sgt. LeRoy Williams, Pfc. James C. Harp, T/5 Austin Johnson and Pvt. Jerone Whitfield.

He is buried at Lorraine American Cemetery at Saint Avold in France.

  • Rank: Technician Fifth Class
  • Date of birth:
  • 12 December 1917
  • Date of death: 2 May 1945
  • County: McMinn
  • Hometown: Athens
  • Service Branch: Army/Army Air Forces
  • Division/Assignment: 614th Destroyer Battalion
  • Theater: Europe
  • Conflict: World War II
  • Awards: Purple Heart
  • Burial/Memorial Location: Lorraine American Cemetery, St. Avold (Moselle), France
  • Location In Memorial: Pillar XV, Middle Panel
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