LONGMONT, Colo. -- A new exhibit at the Longmont Museum chronicles the involvement of local citizens in World War I. Among the posters, uniforms, and weapons are artifacts from one local man who just may be an unknown war hero.
“I am the great niece of Albert ‘Dick’ Smith,” Marilyn Geiger McDaniel said.
One of the main display cases at the museum shows two local soldiers: One of them is well-known pilot John Harold Buckley. The other is Dick Smith.
“We knew the Buckley story. He grew up in Longmont, was killed during World War I and now Buckley Air Force Base and the local American Legion Post are named after him,” Longmont Museum curator Erik Mason said. “The Dick Smith story wasn’t one that we had heard that much.”
That is, until McDaniel answered the museum’s call for local stories of local people serving in WWI.
“Buckley, ‘Buck’ is on the left and Dick is on the right,” she said, describing a picture of the two.
“They were best friends and I would say they were inseparable. They did everything together,” she added.
Smith and Buckley both grew up in Longmont, and volunteered to go to war together as pilots.
“They flew into enemy territory in France where the Germans were also flying and they shot the Germans down,” McDaniel said. “I think Buck shot down five planes and there were at least three my great-uncle shot down.”
She has plenty of details about her great-uncle through the letters he wrote home to his mom and brother during his service.
“He always started his letters with ‘Dearest Mother.’”
That includes a letter that would become a part of local history.
“He had to write the letter when Buckley was killed. He wrote the letter to his mother to tell Buck’s mother that he had been killed. That he had made the supreme sacrifice,” McDaniel said.
“It just so enriches the story to say, 'wow we have these letters,'” the museum curator said. “The eyewitness account from his best friend.”
Smith survived the war, came home to Colorado, but died of the flu only a month later. No buildings are named after him. He didn't even want his letters published by the local paper.
“I feel like he was as much of a hero as Buck, he just didn't want the attention,” McDaniel said.
But generations later, she says that doesn’t lessen what he did.
“I feel pride [for] what he did,” she said. “And I’m so happy that he’s a part of my family. My heritage. My history.”
The WWI exhibit at the Longmont Museum runs through May. For more information, click here.