DEARBORN – It would be no surprise to Dorothy Smith’s neighbors on the campus of Beaumont Commons, Dearborn, to learn that this spry 98 year-old served as an Air Force nurse and officer during World War II.
Born Dorothy Neil in Albion, Smith was raised near the campus of Albion College which she attended for a year before transferring to Battle Creek Community Hospital to complete a three-year nursing degree in 1942.
Upon graduation she worked for a few months as a pediatric nurse at Children’s Hospital in Detroit and then returned to Albion to serve as a midnight nurse at Sheldon Memorial Hospital.
“I was earning $90 a month at the time,” Smith said. “Then my brother got drafted after he earned his degree, so my girlfriend and I decided we would sign up. Nurses were needed, and we joined the Air Force, thinking we would be assigned to an air base in Texas.”
To their surprise, they were assigned to the Rapid City Army Air Base near Sioux Falls, S.D., later known as Ellsworth Air Force Base.
“That ended our hopes of escaping Michigan winters,” she said.
Smith said that for the first six weeks of her service, she had to wear civilian clothes because the Air Force didn’t have any uniforms to fit her petite 5-foot frame.
Working as a nurse at the new established base in South Dakota, they treated a lot of servicemen who had contracted meningitis and other ailments.
After work one day, she and her girlfriend decided to check out the big hunting lodge that had been transformed to an Officer’s Club.
“We realized, why not?” she said. “We were officers, too.”
It was there that she met Floyd Smith, one of the first officers to arrive on the base. After months of dating, they were married on March 29, 1944, in the base chapel.
“Our families weren’t able to attend,” Smith said. “It was snowing and blowing, and nobody was invited so we both just wore our uniforms.”
Then she described how her husband’s entire squadron showed up to surprise them, and all celebrated in the Officer’s Club at the Carpenter Hotel in Sioux Falls.
There was no base housing which meant they had to find a room in town and later a house, before her husband was shipped to Okinawa in the spring of 1945.
“By then, I was pregnant with our first child, so I left the service and went back to Albion while he was overseas,” Smith said.
Having earned a degree in business from the University of Iowa before joining the service, Floyd Smith was hired by Ford Motor Co. when he came to Michigan after the war. The couple settled in Allen Park, and he worked for Ford for 35 years.
It wasn’t until after they raised three children that Dorothy Smith resumed her career as a nurse at a nursing home in Allen Park.
“I worked there for 15 years — with the last eight years as director,” Smith said.
The couple moved to the Dearborn senior living community in 2010 and celebrated 70 years of marriage before Smith’s husband passed away in 2014.
This year, on Veterans Day, Beaumont Commons, Dearborn will host its annual breakfast to recognize and celebrate veterans. Smith will be there to participate.
“I usually read a poem, or whatever they ask me to do,” said Smith, who enjoys staying active skyping, emailing or talking on the phone with her three children, four grandchildren and nine great grandchildren.
“My eye doctor told me come back to see him when I am 100 years old,” she said.
There’s no doubt, she will.