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Veteran Stories: Serving with the Sandstorm Division
Veteran Stories: Serving with the Sandstorm Division
Wednesday, December 30, 2020

NOTE:  In our ongoing series called, “Veteran Stories,” this week we feature Harry T. Smith, who served with the 34th Infantry, known as the Sandstorm Division, in World War I, but also helped patrol the U.S. Southern border against Pancho Villa.

Harry Terrill Smith was born at Harlan, Iowa on Nov. 15, 1892 to William J. and Leora Terrill Smith.  He was the second born of six in the family. His grandfather, Dwight Terrill, had fought with the U.S. 2nd Nebraska Calvary in the Dakotas during the Civil War.  In Harry’s later life when asked about Smith family history, he would just say, “We are blue belly Yankees.”


In 1907, when Harry was 14, his family left the family’s rented farm near Kirkman in Douglas Township, Shelby County, Iowa and homesteaded at Lake Flat, Pennington County, S.D., which is about six miles northwest of Wall.  During the area’s serious 1913 drought, Harry, at age 21, moved to Knox County, Neb. to farm west of Crofton on the north side of the road just west of the top of Horseshoe Hill, with his Aunt and Uncle Minnie and Edwin Nickolas.  The rest of his family moved on from Wall, to homestead again near Rupert, Idaho. 


When America entered World War I, Harry enlisted in the Army on September 22, 1917 at Center, Neb. with a large enlistment group from Knox County.  The enlistment group was transported by rail to Fort Riley, Kan. and was assigned to train at Camp Funston.  Harry joined other men from Nebraska, Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota for basic training and training in advanced infantry tactics. 


When his training at Camp Funston was completed, Harry was transferred to Camp Cody near Deming, New Mexico to join the 34th Infantry Division.  Previously, the 34th Infantry had been stripped of personnel to fully staff other Divisions, leaving a cadre for the reorganizing and rebuilding the 34th.  Harry was assigned to the Ordinance Department working to furnish, maintain and repair the Division’s weapons and to arrange and provide ammunition.  At times, he operated a motorcycle with a sidecar to transport his commanding officer around the camp.  Because of the dry, sandy and dusty conditions at Camp Cody, the 34th gained the nickname “SANDSTORM DIVISION” with the motto “Duty, Honor and Country”.  While at Camp Cody, the 34th Infantry provided troops to man small satellite army camps along the southern border with Mexico and to patrol the border to prevent Mexican Revolutionary, General Pancho Villa and his forces from illegally entering the U.S.


One of Harry’s brothers also served in the Army, and the other brother served in the Navy during the war, after enlisting in Rupert, Idaho.  Sadly, his two recently married youngest sisters, Cecil and Bavia in Rupert, Idaho, died during the 1918-1919 Spanish Flu Pandemic. It is widely believed that the pandemic started at Fort Riley, Kans. and had been spread by soldiers as they were transferred around the U.S. and the world.


Near the end of the war, after being honorably discharged from the Army with the rank of Sergeant of Ordnance, Harry returned to Knox County to farm.  On July 23, 1919, Harry married Leona Hanna Merchen, daughter of Louis and Anna McKee Merchen.  The couple lived west of Crofton and just west of Horseshoe Hill until the spring of 1920 when they rented and moved to the Jake Nohr farm on Weigand Creek (across the road from the current Weigand Resort) where their first son Raymond was born.  Around this time, Harry T. acquired the nickname “Buck”.


In 1923, Buck and Leona rented pioneer Leonard Weigand’s farm and big house in the village of Weigand.  On March 1, 1923, nine months pregnant, Buck’s wife, Leona drove a team and loaded wagon up the Weigand Creek road to their new home.  On March 3, their first daughter, Leora was born.  Over the next years, daughters Cleo, Verlyn, Cecil and son Harry T. were born. Harry and Leona eventually purchased the Weigand farm.  Buck and Leona’s children attended Weigand’s School, District 19 and later high school in Crofton.


After a long illness, Leona passed away on June 22, 1947.  In the early 1950’s, with the five older children grown and on their own, Buck sold the Weigand house and farm and bought a farm at Frankfort (across the road south of the Frankfort Cemetery) and moved there with son Harry T.


Buck continued living on the Frankfort farm after his youngest son married and moved to farm near Bloomfield.  Buck stayed in close touch with his children and grandchildren with many visits, holidays and meals and also made regular trips to Rupert, Idaho to visit his brother, Jay, and sister, Mabel Nelson.  Buck also became a master fisherman using his Alumacraft boat in the Gavin’s Point Dam’s tailwaters, often teaching his grandchildren how to fish. 


Harry, aged 70 years, 10 months, passed away on Sept. 8, 1963 and is buried at Beaver View Cemetery west of Crofton next to his wife Leona and near other family members.


CONTACT US:  If you or your parents, grandparents or other relatives from Crofton, living or deceased, served in the armed forces, we would like to tell your story in the Journal as part of this series. If you have a story to tell or digital photos to share, email with a subject line notation of “Veteran Stories” to let us know the details.