Vaughan: Vietnam War widow never remarried
Clora Smith’s brother Sgt. Willie Edward Alston was killed in action in the Vietnam War on May 15, 1968. He was 25 years old and with the 4th Battalion, 47th Infantry Regiment of the 9th Infantry Division. They grew up in Durham and he is buried in Beechwood Cemetery.
At the time, Smith was stationed with her husband, Staff Sgt. Charles Earl Smith, at Fort Bragg. Her husband stood next to her when her brother’s body came home. Charles Smith had already served a tour in Vietnam and had been back a year. A few months later he was called back to Vietnam and killed in action July 7, 1969. He was 26 and left behind his wife, a daughter and a son. His name is on the Vietnam War Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C., there at Panel 21W, Line 078. He served in the 7th Squadron, 17th Cavalry Regiment of the 1st Aviation Brigade. He died when the Jeep he was riding in hit a mine. He too is buried at Beechwood.
Clora Smith, now 69, grieved for six years, she said. His parents became second parents, and stayed close until they died. His siblings still live in Durham. She never remarried.
“I couldn’t find nobody as nice and good to me,” Clora Smith told me in a phone interview a few days ago. Her husband and brother are two of the Durham Vietnam veterans killed in the war that fellow North Carolinians were seeking photographs of for the findagrave.com page and an upcoming visual exhibit at the Memorial Wall. I wrote about it in my column last Sunday. Smith will contribute photos of them in their uniforms.
Clora and Charles Smith had two children, Cloria Ann, who passed away in 2008, and Charles Jr., who still lives here in Durham. He was just 3 when his dad died, she said.
Clora and Charles Sr. met in school at W.D. Pearson. He was a year ahead, and she had a crush on him. They lost contact until reintroduced as teenagers.
“He was very handsome and a gentleman. He knew how to treat a lady. He loved his family. He was a good provider. He treated me nice – no foolishness,” Clora Smith said. “He was a sweet, charming person with a beautiful personality. His parents raised him well.”
It took her a long time to get over his death. Eventually she got rid of his letters from Vietnam because it was so hard.
“My brother one year and him the next,” Smith said. She was close to her brother Willie Alston, just 13 months apart. “My mother was grieving just as hard.”
As she has done on Veterans Day in years past, Smith will go on Monday to Beechwood Cemetery where her husband and brother are buried. She brings flowers and talks to her husband.
“I tell him I love him and I miss him,” she said.
She is still close to her late husband’s sisters, and one of them called her last Sunday morning before church to tell her about my column.
The Smiths were married in his family’s home. It was a beautiful wedding, she said.
“I never married again because I never thought anyone could love me again, because he had that unconditional love,” Smith said.
Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan may be reached at email@example.com or 919-419-6563.