A Sentimental Journey

 

On April 7, 2000, John and Corrine Afton of Benton, Kansas traveled to Magdalena, New Mexico to visit the last residence of Albert Daniel Smith, John Afton’s uncle, before Albert D. entered the service of his country on 20 March 1941.

Albert Daniel Smith was the son of Albert Smith and Nancy Belle (Smith). He was born in Denison, Grayson County, Texas on 26 January 1909.

Albert’s mother, Nancy Belle Smith, was born in Hunt County, Texas on 9 February 1879. She is buried in Guthrie, Oklahoma.

Albert’s maternal grandfather, John James Smith (1834-1924) was a Texas pioneer, railroad builder and Indian fighter. He and other family members helped build the “Wrong Way Railroad” from Cairo, Illinois to Chicago about 1850, moving to Hunt County, Texas in 1855. In Texas, John Smith served as a Texas Ranger and Sheriff of Hunt County.

The Aftons found items pertaining to the life and death of Albert D. Smith among the possessions of John Afton’s mother (Albert Smith’s sister) Bettie Ethel (Smith) Afton, following her death in 1992.

Albert had another sister, Zadia Marie (Smith) Kinkade, who is also deceased.

Albert was inducted into the US Army on 20 March 1941 in Santa Fe, New Mexico. He was assigned to the 200th Coast Artillery, Battery C. After training at Fort Bliss, Texas, the unit was sent to the Philippines. Albert became a prisoner of war when the unit was captured at Bataan on 9 April 1942. Albert survived the Death March of Bataan and was a POW for 2-1/2 years.

In October 1944, as General MacArthur prepared to return to the Philippines, 1,800 prisoners of war were placed on an unmarked ship by the Japs for shipment to Japan. An American submarine sank the ship on 24 October 1944. Only eight men survived — Albert was not one of them.

Among the items discovered by the Aftons were personal letters and pictures from Albert’s friends in Magdalena, New Mexico which the Aftons donated to the Box Car Museum in Magdalena.

 

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“We assume that Albert went to Magdalena for work as letters to his sister in Benton, Kansas mentioned working in the mine and being a wood and coal yard operator. He wrote that his 1931 Ford truck was left with Tom Butterfield.

“Our day in Magdalena was very rewarding. We visited the Box Car Museum, City Hall in the old depot, the Market Place, the cemetery and the office of the ‘Magdalena Mountain Mail.’ All persons were friendly and interested in the mementos that we donated. We enjoyed lunch at a restaurant on the west edge of the city before leaving town.

“On Sunday, 9 April 2000 at 10:00 a.m., we attended an impressive ceremony at the Eternal Flame by the Bataan Memorial Building in Santa Fe conducted by the New Mexico National Guard. The American Flag was lowered and the white flag of surrender was raised for the ceremony. Surviving veterans were introduced and several were awarded the medals they should have received years ago. At the close of the ceremony, the flag of surrender was lowered and the American Flag was raised again.

“We were pleased to meet Arthur B. Smith who remembered Albert because they had the same surname.

“A lovely reception was held following the ceremony. All of the members of the National Guard were very gracious and showed a genuine interest in each veteran and/or their family.

“In a small way, we have placed parts of Albert’s life in the hands of those who care. We appreciate the freedom that we enjoy because of the life he gave. We congratulate the New Mexico National Guard and others for trying to keep the memory alive of those who served and died for their country. God Bless America!”

 

John and Corrine Afton, Benton, Kansas