Three pairs of identical, crystal blue eyes gaze across Lake Lanier.
The Smallwood brothers, identifiable by their bright eyes, white hair and easy smiles, sit in the back sunroom of the American Legion Paul E. Bolding Post 7 on Riverside Drive in Gainesville. The three brothers represent an increasing rarity today.
All three are World War II veterans.
“I was not drafted at 18,” 91-year-old John Smallwood said. “I signed for it, but they didn’t take me because my older brother TJ was already in there, and it was just my mother. So they left me till things eased up a bit.”
Howell Smallwood, now 89, served on active duty from 1943-1946 in the U.S. Navy. He joined straight out of high school and moved from bases in Florida to Philadelphia, Pa.
Howell was the only of the three remaining Smallwood brothers to fire a weapon in the war.
“We don’t talk about that,” said Howell Smallwood, who spent much of his time in the Navy looking for German U-boats, while his oldest brother, TJ Smallwood, who has passed away, was serving in the Army under Gen. George S. Patton.
Younger brother Horace Smallwood, 87, was drafted four months after his 18th birthday. He first served as quartermaster of basic training in Virginia, then was transferred to Oklahoma. Finally, he was transferred to Fort Lewis, Wash., where he helped in a clinic treating those who returned from service wounded.
“I saw a lot of people and a lot of things,” said Horace Smallwood, who said he felt like he did his part in the service, though he never fired a weapon. “A lot of sick people, a lot of hurt people.”
He told the story of a young man who came through the clinic and grabbed his hand as they moved him to an X-ray machine. Before they could do the scan, he had died.
“I didn’t know him,” Horace Smallwood said. “But I can imagine all these boys, how they felt if they were there with their best friend in the world, somebody they knew, and it was them.”
All three brothers have varying experiences from the same war, living examples of its vastness.
John Smallwood spent most of his time driving a tank across Europe.
“I went to Europe,” John Smallwood said. “I was in France, Germany, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Austria. I didn’t do any shooting when I was there, and I had a good time.”
He arrived in Europe after the fighting had ended, according to his brother.
“The day the war was over in Europe, John was just going over to Germany. When he landed, the war was over. So they landed just right to stop that war,” Howell Smallwood joked.
“They knew I was coming and had to give up,” John Smallwood said.
When the war ended, Howell Smallwood was amid the entirety of the Navy fleets, both Pacific and Atlantic, which were stationed to cross the Pacific to Japan.
“We said they must have known I was coming,” Howell Smallwood said.
The three brothers are quick to joke about their time in the military, but reticent to discuss the harder parts of war.
“I thought about the folks that were crawling under those wires, getting shot at overhead, sleeping out there on the ground,” said Howell Smallwood. “And that’s why I was in the Navy.”
The Smallwood family, consisting of five boys and five girls, was always close. Their father left them soon after the last child was born, and the eldest brothers supported their mother in raising the family.
“Even back when we were in school, everybody knew who the Smallwood brothers were,” said Howell Smallwood while his brothers laughed.
Today, the brothers are all members of Gainesville’s Post 7 American Legion, where they were recognized Monday evening for their service and membership.
Howell Smallwood led prayer Monday at the American Legion, and prayed to God that “there may never be another war like it again.”
Horace Smallwood said he’s proud of his family, and proud to be alive.
“I work out every day and play golf three days a week,” he said. “I’m proud to be 87. I get up every morning, look up and thank Him.”
John Smallwood said he thinks the most remarkable thing about their time in the war is simple.
“We all, all four of us, came home safe,” he said.