Some memories never fade

Clifford Smith, a World War II veteran who lives in Orofino, will mark his 100th birthday today.

Most people can’t remember what they had for breakfast, but Clifford Smith still remembers his eight-digit U.S. Army serial number from World War II.

Smith can reach back and remember some things from his 100 years on Earth, but some memories escape him. Certain dates, names and events slip his mind, but the names of his pets or how much he paid for his former home in Peck are cemented in his memory. He said he paid $750 in cash for his Peck residence — now owned by one of his grandchildren — but the asking price was $1,000.

Smith, who turns 100 today, was born in the region, but spent a lot of his youth farming in Missouri. An uncle brought him back West to visit family, and he met a Peck woman, Margaret, when she was 17 and he was 19. The two were married two years later — and shortly after, Smith went off to war.

He said he went in 1944-45 and said he mostly transported people and cleared out shelled homes during his two-year tour.

“It was pretty well over when I went over there initially,” he said. “There were still some snipers. It was dangerous, but not that bad.”

One of Smith’s six children, Peggy Keough, said her dad never used to share stories about his time in the service, but has recently started talking openly about the war.

Smith said he was clearing out a home in the European theater and had been working all day and was sweaty when he learned a bathroom of one of the homes had cold water.

“So I thought, ‘Boy, I’m gonna take me a shower.’ Well, as soon as I stepped in the tub, a shot rang out and there was a hole above where I would have been,” Smith said. “I was pretty lucky. I needed a shower then.”

After his service, Smith worked for three decades for Riverside Lumber Co. before retiring in 1982. He spent the past few decades traveling with his wife before she died of Alzheimer’s disease. Up until about a year ago, Clifford lived and cared for himself, but has since lived at Brookside Landing in Orofino.

Keough said her father kept up his strength into his 90s, and still walks the halls of Brookside to get exercise. This was after Smith was struck by a vehicle while on a road trip in Nevada. Smith said he was 75 when he was hit and had to be flown to Las Vegas, where doctors told him he’d be lucky if he would walk without assistance ever again.

But Smith was back on his feet in a few months. Keough said Smith used to walk with several other seniors out to the county line near Peck, which is about a mile, and he kept at it until he was 92.

Asked how he made it to 100, and how others can make it to the century mark, Smith said a happy, full family helped him.

“I’ve been lucky, I think. I had a nice family and they’ve all done well,” Smith said. “I really enjoyed life and I’ve still got a good life.”

Holm may be contacted at (208) 848-2275 or tholm@lmtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter @TomHolm4.

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