CARIBOU, Maine — Back in 1994, Richard Cole was walking the rows of immaculately placed headstones at the Normandy America Cemetery and Memorial in France, where the ultimate sacrifice made by thousands of American soldiers will never be forgotten.
The site, as Cole described, is breathtakingly beautiful. The cemetery covers over 170 acres and contains the graves of 9,387 graves of U.S. soldiers, most of whom lost their lives during the D-Day landings and the ensuing operations, according to the cemetery’s Web page.
Knowing that each headstone signified a soldier who lost his life defending freedom, Cole told his then-wife, “I’m going to choose one of these graves at random, and I’m going to remember his name.”
Since that day, 70-year-old Richard Cole of California has never forgotten Raymond J. Smith of Caribou, who is buried in Normandy with thousands of his brothers in arms.
Smith was 24 years old when he died — young, like many others buried at the cemetery — and though Cole only knew Smith’s name, age and hometown, he knew that Smith was an admirable man.
“I think of what these soldiers did, and it’s important to give them credit and to never forget them,” Cole said.
Recently, however, Cole has been trying to find out more about Smith. While the mystery of who Smith was hasn’t been easily unraveled, a more complete image of Sgt. Raymond Smith has been carefully developed.
Utilizing the skills of genealogist Patrick Murray of Des Moines, Iowa, Cole obtained a copy of Smith’s obituary, printed in the Bangor Daily News on Aug. 10, 1944. The obituary revealed that Smith had grown up in Caribou and was survived by his father, Owen, and three sisters. He also was able to find that Smith lived at 19 Limestone St.
Last month, Cole contacted the Aroostook Republican office, placing an ad in hopes of finding anyone who knew or knew of Raymond Smith. When no one responded to the ad, Cole was disappointed but not surprised.
But the trail didn’t go cold for long.
Over the years former reference librarian and historian of the Caribou Public Library, Wendy Bosse, has complied an extremely inclusive encyclopedia that identifies individuals from the Caribou area who served their country during World War II.
It was in Bosse’s collection that the next piece of the puzzle was waiting, and one that Cole had been hoping someone would be able to find: a photograph of Sgt. Raymond Smith.
Raymond Smith’s file at the Caribou Library contains a handful of small articles printed by the Aroostook Republican, the first one dated May 27, 1943. It reads: “Corporal Raymond Smith writes from Great Britain, ‘I want to go gunning, and the sooner the better.’ Corporal Smith, a machine gunner, entered the Army in May, 1942.”
The next piece of information pertains to Smith’s promotion to Sergeant. Printed on May 18, 1944, it reads: “Mrs. Owen Smith has received word recently from her son, Raymond Smith, that he has been promoted to the rank of Sergeant. Sgt. Smith has been in England for the past 18 months.”
Just two months later, Sgt. Smith was reported missing. On July 27, the Aroostook Republican printed: “Word was received this week by wire from the War Department in Washington, D.C., by Owen Smith, 19 Limestone Street, Caribou, that his son, Sgt. Raymond J. Smith, has been missing in action in France since June 13.”
Two weeks later, another article stated that word was received on Aug. 6 from the War Department that Sgt. Raymond Johnson Smith, 24, the only son of Owen E. Smith, formerly reported missing, was killed in action on June 13 in France.
“Sgt. Smith enlisted in the Armed Forces in May, 1942. He received his training at Fort Meade, Md., Fredericksburg, Va., and Camp Blanding, Fla., being sent overseas from New York in the fall of 1942. He had since served in the Infantry as a machine gunner in England, and in the invasion of Normandy. Sgt. Smith was born in Caribou, Nov. 24, 1919. He leaves his father, Owen E. Smith, three sisters, Mrs. David Giberson of Lac Megantic, Quebec; Misses Nellie and Verna Smith of New Britain, Conn.; and his grandfather, Bertie Kearney, Upper Kent, N.B.”
Reported five months later on Jan. 4, 1945, Sgt. Raymond Smith was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart medal. It was presented to his father, Owen.
While Cole now knows much more about Raymond Smith than when he started, questions still abound about the young man who lost his life serving his country during the invasion of Normandy — Did he have a girlfriend? Did he like football? Did he have a career?
Cole believes that Smith was a courageous man, as he enlisted knowing that war awaited him.
“It’s the sense of someone wanting to put their life on the line for a cause that’s very noble,” Cole said. He’s driven to research the young soldier out of admiration and respect and in doing so, he’s hoping the people of Caribou can remember the young solder their town produced as someone to look up to and be proud of.
“I feel we need heroes, people we can admire,” Cole said.
Anyone with additional information regarding Raymond Smith can contact Cole at 925-238-8821.