By Paul Wood
DANVILLE — Join the Navy and see the world.
That was no exaggeration for Dale Smutz, 90. Smutz grew up in Danville and ran track. He continued to run every day he could — a lifelong habit.
He spent eight weeks in basic training at Great Lakes.
Smutz served in the Navy from 1951 to 1953. Of that, 21 months were in the Mediterranean.
He served aboard the USS Coral Sea in the Sixth Fleet. He thinks he may have served at the same time as recent interviewee J. Lindsley Foote among the 3,000 sailors.
He served as a payroll clerk and a mess cook.
“The newest one always gets the mess job. The good thing was we got plenty to eat, different kinds of pies,” he said.
Not so good?
“My battle station was below deck, where the ammunition for the big guns was mechanically lifted to the guns on the upper deck,” Smutz said. “It’s a good thing I wasn’t claustrophobic.”
“I was supposed to have another sailor there to help, but he never showed up,” he added.
On an aircraft carrier, there’s always a possibility of disaster.
He remembers a plane crashing into the edge of the carrier, catching fire. With huge hoses, the crew sprayed fuel and debris overboard.
Not much in the way of confrontation, though.
“Cruising the sea, we visited many ports,” he said. “But I didn’t get off the ship very much. We supposedly were there to protect the lands from Russia.”
His first impression of Gibraltar was a city with hundreds of neon lights.
“Not like the huge Prudential rock,” he said.
In nearby Spain, the Coral Sea visited the port of Barcelona, where he had liberty.
In France, the port was Golfe-Juan on the Cote d’Azur, the French Riviera. By far, that was his favorite.
“We walked on the beach, saw all the pretty girls, good weather all the time I was there,” Smutz recalled.
The sailors visited Monaco, then, in Italy, Genoa, then Sicily. They visited Cagliari, a port on the Italian island of Sardinia.
Athens was memorable. “We actually had fresh milk for the first time in months. Later, we wondered if it was goat’s milk,” Smutz said.
Further up the coast, the country became less friendly. When they approached the (communist) Yugoslavian coast, he didn’t go ashore and didn’t stay long.
“Many small boats came out to see us. They hadn’t seen a huge American aircraft carrier before. My job was to stand at the fantail with the water cannons to hose them down if they tried to board us somehow,” Smutz said.
When it came time for discharge, they crossed the sea to Algiers.
“We were taking a bus to the airport and had a wreck. The driver was driving so erratically. We dove out the windows, but no one was seriously hurt,” he said.
He’s proud of his service. After all the nations he visited, he loves the freedom of America the most.
“I always said the worst place in America was the best place everywhere else, except the French Riviera,” he joked.
Smutz served in the Naval Reserve unit at the station on Lake Vermilion for six years, around 1959, he said.
After his Navy service, he became an accountant and comptroller at what once was the Allith-Prouty Co., then as an agent for American General Insurance.
“I liked to see people, not be at a desk all the time,” Smutz said.
In retirement, he worked part time as a substitute rural mail carrier.
During 26 of these years, he also was a Red Vest volunteer at what is now OSF Sacred Heart Medical Center, with service of over 9,000 hours.
He was a runner for more than 40 years — including two marathons.
“I just wanted to see if I could do it that long. I didn’t train as much as I should have. After the second, I told my wife, never again,” Smutz said.
After breaking his hip last July, one of the doctors told him: “You wouldn’t be here now if you hadn’t been a runner.”
Do you know a veteran who could share a story about military service? Contact Paul Wood at firstname.lastname@example.org.