By Noelle Phillips – The State (Columbia, S.C.)
COLUMBIA,S.C. — Sgt. Albert “Frankie” Smith was killed in Holland in 1944, but his voice did not die.
Last month, Bill Sellars received a letter written to him 64 years ago by a childhood friend who was killed shortly after the D-Day invasion in 1944.
Instead, it rested in a bundle of his belongings, passed between siblings for 64 years.
This month, a letter from Smith to a boyhood friend surfaced when his older brother, Woodrow Smith, 86, found a weathered air-mail envelope as he sorted through his younger brother's things.
The letter, written Aug. 25, 1944, was addressed to Bill Sellars of Columbia, S.C., so Woodrow Smith hand-delivered the envelope to his brother's friend.
“I didn't read it,” Woodrow Smith said. “It was personal.”
The narrow, cursive writing fills three yellowed, tattered pages of stationery. In it, Albert Smith gives updates on mutual friends serving on the European front and asks about friends and life back in Columbia.
Albert Smith briefly mentions his combat experience.
“As you probably know I have been in combat,” he wrote. “I was one of the first to jump in France. I landed about seven hours before (D-Day). I'm telling you we really caught hell. We were over there for a good while but now I'm back in England.”
Sellars, 84, and Albert Smith grew up together at Epworth Children's Home in Columbia where they shared a room for nearly 10 years. Smith wrote the letter while stationed in England and mailed it to Sellars at the University of South Carolina.
However, Sellars was not at the university, so the letter was returned to Smith's military address in England. Sellars had just finished a tour in the Pacific as a Naval petty officer and was beginning ROTC training at USC. He had been sent on an assignment in New Jersey when the letter arrived.
Albert Smith served with C Company, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, and in September 1944, the unit parachuted into Holland to clear a route for ground troops to reach the German border.
On Sept. 20, 1944, Smith was killed in action there at age 20. He was laid to rest in Netherlands Cemetery, an American burial ground near the village of Margraten, according to military records.
The letter, along with other personal belongings, was bundled and sent to his sister in South Carolina. The package was given to brother Woodrow Smith a few years after their sister died.
Woodrow Smith stored his brother's possessions in his Columbia home and only recently decided to look through them.
Woodrow Smith also found a black and white photograph of his brother and Sellars, both wearing overalls, at Epworth. Other belongings included Albert Smith's military patches and pictures of fellow soldiers in England.
Woodrow Smith and Sellars, both Epworth alumni, have remained friends over the years and regularly meet for lunch.
“I couldn't believe it that all these years that letter has been in Woody's home and he just found it,” Sellars said.
The most intriguing part to Sellars, however, was Albert Smith's request to find his Columbia girlfriend.
“Look Bill, I want you to do me a favor,” a paragraph of the letter reads. “Go to Lane Drug Store and ask for Joyce Setzler. She's the cashier at the cigarette counter. Tell her hello for me and that I still love her. She's my girl. Take her out one night for me. Tell her that you are one of my buddies.”
Sellars said he is sorry he never got a chance to visit her.
“I was upset when I got it,” he said. “I was thinking, ‘I never found the girl.'”
Today, Joyce Setzler is Joyce Hudson. She married Walker L. Hudson Jr. on Aug. 2, 1946, according to Richland County marriage license records.
The couple still lives in Columbia.
However, Joyce Hudson did not want to talk about her relationship with Albert Smith.
“I'd rather it just be left alone,” she said.
Woodrow Smith doubts his brother's sincerity, anyway.
“He had several love affairs in England with little nurses they had over there,” he said.
Sellars did not know Setzler, but he agreed Albert Smith was a ladies' man. After all, he was a tough athlete who played football, basketball and baseball at Epworth. But Sellars wishes he had had the chance to find Setzler and take her on a date on behalf of his best friend. After all, it was a last request, of sorts. “He trusted me,” Sellars said. “I would have behaved myself.”
WHAT THE LETTER SAID
25 August 1944
I hear that you are back in the states so I guess that I'll write you. I met Bob Beach a little while ago and we are really having a big time. He gets a jeep and comes over to see me, then we usually go somewhere and have a swell time. Milton said that he saw you a few times in the Marshall Islands or Hawaii one, I can't remember. I know that you were over in the Pacific for a while. I have been overseas a year now and it's beginning to tell on me. No kidding it is really rough.
As you probably know I have been in combat. I was one of the first to jump in France. I landed about seven hours before D-day. I'm telling you we really caught hell. We were over there for a good while but now I'm back in England.
Say what's this about Cuby Rae and Bob? Is there anything in it? I mean do they love each other or is it just friendship? Bob got a picture of her somewhere.
Say, how are things going back in the states? Bet you sure were glad to get back there. You probably think it is heaven compared to the Pacific. I'm waiting for the day I get to go back there. We'll really have a wonderful time when we get together.
Claude Norman was in on the invasion but I never heard from him since. Sure hope that he is all right. Angus is stationed about 160 miles from me but I can never get off to go see him. We have planned and planned to meet but something always interferes somewhere and I never get to see him.
Have been to London a lot but it has changed a lot since I got back from France. The girls are really making a fortune off the American soldiers there.
Look Bill, I want you do me a favor. Go to Lane Drug Store and ask for Joyce Setzler. She's the cashier at the cigarette counter. Tell her hello for me and that I still love her. She's my girl. Take her out one night for me. Tell her that you're one of my buddies. Why don't you go by and see Montegue for me when you have time.
Well there is no news so I guess I'll close for now. Be good and see that girl for me.
A pal forever,