ALBANY, N.Y. -- A local World War II veteran, one of the few who survived the Battle of Iwo Jima, is now fighting to clear his good name after discovering a mix up with his military records.
Dr. Thomas Smith may be a retired educator but, don't let that fool you. He is a marine through and through. And when he recently discovered that the military had mistaken him for a soldier who went AWOL during the war, he went to battle again, but this time against red tape and bureaucracy.
As a young marine, Dr. Smith knew that at Tinian, Saipan, and Iwo Jima, it was kill or be killed.
“They came out by the hundreds and you were fighting at night with your rifles, clubs, anything you had,” he said. “My company had 229 men in it and when we came out of the pacific, there were only 29 of us. So, we took a heck of a beating. You think of your buddies occasionally, but they did a job.”
After his job was done and the war was over, he obtained his doctorate working as an educator for over 40 years. Now he meets with friends and a dwindling number of fellow vets at The Home Front café in Altamont.
At 90, he is working on his memoirs. As part of his research, he decided to request his military records. But, when they arrived, they didn't make any sense, detailing places he hadn’t been.
The name on the paperwork was his, Thomas J. Smith Jr., but the Thomas J. Smith Jr. in the file had been recorded as going AWOL during the war.
“The bottom of the letter is stamped Thomas Jefferson Smith Jr. I’m Joseph. Those records are in there and I've been trying to get them out,” he said.
To fix the mix-up, he wrote a series of letters, first to the Marine Corp.
“They referred me to the national archives. And then the run around,” he said. “I look at it this way. A 6-year old could figure this out. Joseph, Jefferson.”
Thomas says he isn't going after medals, although he would definitely be eligible, he just wants to clear his good name.
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