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Hagerstown man pens booklet in honor of uncle

August 16, 1998

Justin MayhueBy MARLO BARNHART / Staff Writer

photo: KEVIN G. GILBERT / staff photographer [enlarge]




A tribute to an uncle who died before he was born has opened up a world of family history for Justin Mayhue, the nephew that Clyde Jacob Smith never got to know.

"I've been researching family history as a hobby for a long time," Mayhue said. Along the way, the Hagerstown man became particularly interested in one uncle who died in the Korean War in October, 1952.

The search for information on Smith got off to a rocky start, Mayhue said. "I first approached my grandmother and she just wouldn't talk about it."

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But other aunts and uncles contributed letters they'd gotten from Smith while he was in Korea.

One uncle, Harvey Smith, did show Mayhue a picture of "Jake" Smith and the search took on new meaning ... the physical resemblance between Mayhue and this uncle he'd never known was striking.

What started as simple research for a page or two of information turned into 40 pages of text, letters, citations and pictures Mayhue was able to gather from family and several of his uncle's comrades in Korea.

"Valor: The Story of PFC Clyde Jacob Smith" is subtitled His Actions Were That Born Of A True American.

One of Mayhue's first efforts at research involved contacting Lt. Richard Starbird, a comrade of the fallen soldier, who lives in the state of Washington.

"He is writing his own book about his war experiences," Mayhue said. They shared some information and the local book began to grow.

A big break came when Gordon Coyle, a war buddy, invited Mayhue to visit him at his Finksburg, Md., home to share his memories. Coyle had visited with Mayhue's grandparents in 1953, spending several days with them and telling them how their son died.

Mayhue said his most poignant moment came when he received a copy of a 1953 letter written by Col. R.A. Risden, which accompanied the family's receipt of Clyde Jacob Smith's Silver Star for gallantry.

In that letter, details of the fight for Triangle Hill were described in the events of Oct. 17, 1952. Smith, a forward radio operator/observer, left his failed radio and, ignoring enemy fire, moved through the battle zone to get batteries to restore vital communications, the letter read.

Heading back to his safe bunker, Smith spotted several wounded comrades, called for help and stopped to assist them before he was mortally wounded by enemy fire in a forward trench.

Getting to know many of his late uncle's buddies, Mayhue took several of them this summer to the Korean War Memorial in Washington, D.C.

"We also went to his gravesite on McAfee Hill above Fort Ritchie," Mayhue said. "He was an inspiration to them, his family and to me."

Mayhue, 37, is deputy chief of the Long Meadow Fire Company and works for the City of Hagerstown Fire Department.

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