Moraga couple’s service to God and country
By Lou Fancher
Lately, Frances Smith dresses in azure blue almost daily.
The color marks special moments for the Moraga 90-year-old: she wore azure in 1948, during the blind date she went on with the man who is now her husband of 67 years, 94-year-old Victor Smith.
The tradition continued for special anniversaries and occasions involving the couple’s three adult children and four grandchildren. Most recently, Fran has been donning blue for frequent photo shoots as she and her husband receive media attention for his service during World War II and their years of volunteering in the community and internationally.
They post the U.S. flag outdoors one week before Veterans Day. Signifying their love of country and the democratic ideals that make their homeland great, Fran says, “He always puts the flag out on holidays. I think he’d go to war at age 94 if called. Would I go out and stand up for the country if someone was shooting guns at us? I guess if I had to. Instead, we’re called to fill boxes with food for children.”
The Smiths have served on the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano food boxing teams for more than 15 years. Two or three Fridays each month, they can be found in a warehouse with other volunteers, filling boxes with food staples and produce for children.
“While many of our volunteers are retired, the Smiths are two of our oldest,” says food bank manager of volunteer services Sharon Zeppegno. “They’re amazing people. They’re always enthusiastic and a real joy to work with. They tell me that they’re slowing down.”
Their calendar says otherwise. They no longer help build houses locally or in Mexico, but in addition to volunteering with the food bank, Fran works with fellow church members of Lafayette United Methodist to prepare Easter baskets distributed by the Food Bank to partner agencies serving local children in need.
A one-room school house in Colonet, Mexico, that they helped build 10 years ago and later supported by funding the cost for a revamped playground, continues to receive their attention and an annual donation for holiday treats.
Vic meets monthly at Denny’s in Concord with military veterans. “There are about 50 people each time. Only three of us are World War II vets,” he says. “There aren’t many of us left.”
At 16, Vic lied about his age and joined the California National Guard. Mobilized in 1941, he was denied active duty because of perforated eardrums and returned to civilian life.
A year later, he was drafted, passed the physical and was sent to flight mechanic school. He didn’t care for the work and signed up for cadet training to be a bombardier and navigator. Graduated as a second lieutenant and dual rated, which qualified him for WWII’s long overwater flights, he received an assignment.
“The crew were oh, so happy to have me because the bombardier they had had almost gotten them killed by getting lost and nearly crashing into a mountain,” he recalls.
Vic kept a diary that chronicles his 46 missions in the South Pacific. He says he “had it easy” compared to the ground infantry, but even so, he writes of last-minute, panicked dives into bomb shelters, filthy conditions, seeing people die or suffer PTSD’s precursor, “combat fear,” and losing friends.
Filled with inexplicable certainty that he would survive, Vic says he was rarely afraid. Only during the last few missions did he begin to stand behind the co-pilot whose seat had a steel plate of armor.
“I was more aware of bullets coming through the plane,” he recalled. “That was when I decided I would follow Christ if I survived the war. It made a vast difference in my life.”
Honorably discharged as a 2nd lieutenant, he studied metallurgy at Colorado School of Mines, where he went on a blind date with a young nurse, Fran.
“I was intrigued. She was a redheaded nurse in a blue dress.”
Fran says that Vic was considerate and didn’t even try to kiss her on their first date.
“We met in September, and I knew in December that he was going to be my partner for the rest of my life,” she said.
Asked to define what constitutes a hero, power, service and patriotism, Vic says that a person who risks loss while helping others and draws on the power of God to serve a country or the good of society is doing something heroic, something worthwhile.
Fran says power is having the inner confidence, at any age, to do something good without needing attention or praise.
“I volunteer a lot, but I don’t expect a pat on the back. Service? It’s just a voice inside of you, saying you should do it. It’s why we’re put on the earth — to help other people.”
The Smiths will be honored Dec. 6, as outstanding community volunteers at Diablo Magazine’s annual Threads of Hope awards ceremony.