The Smothers Family’s link to Philippines, by Martin Meadows

Smothers Brothers in 1965 photoA veritable blizzard of media accounts followed the death on 26 December 2023 of Tom Smothers, the senior half of the famed Smothers Brothers, whose show-business credentials date to the 1960s. The purpose of this post is not to add to that blizzard; on the contrary, my initial intention was simply to briefly highlight that the brothers (in what I thought was a not-well-known fact) had been evacuated from the Philippines not long before the Pearl Harbor attack brought the U.S. into WWII; and — a slightly better-known fact — that the brothers’ father, a Major in the U.S. Army, later died while in Japanese captivity. My initial post, consisting of a grand total of four lines, has since been transformed into this somewhat more extensive report.

Why the changed plans, and what did that involve? My initial reaction soon changed when I looked through the flood of accounts about Tom Smothers and his family. I then decided to look more closely into the whole family’s history prior to the immediate post-WWII period. Given that context, my revised decision resulted from the fact that virtually all of the stories about the Smothers family displayed one or more of the following shortcomings — information was either non-existent, incomplete, and/or just plain wrong. (That verdict applies, for example, to the article whose link is attached at the bottom, along with two illustrative paragraphs from the article, which are excerpted from about 1/3 of the way into the article. The verdict even applies to the Wikipedia entry on the brothers.)

To make it clear at the outset, however, this narrative does not seek to present a comprehensive review of the family’s history; nor does it deal in any way with the Smothers Brothers’ show-business history, which, as noted, has been covered by innumerable writers. Its purposes are twofold: to present the highlights of the missing and thus almost completely unknown record of the head of the Smothers family prior to his arrival in the Philippines in 1940; and to clarify the almost always incorrect, and often even badly-garbled “facts,” relating to the Smothers children’s births and their arrival in and later evacuation from the Philippines.
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National Former POW Recognition Day

April 9th is the 81st anniversary of the fall of the Bataan Peninsula in the Philippines and the beginning of the infamous Bataan Death March. Less than half of the men on Bataan would survive WWII, the majority dying as POWs of Imperial Japan. President Joe Biden’s cousin, John Robinette, a tanker from Ohio, was on the Bataan Death March and died as a POW of Japan in the Philippines.

In Washington D.C., there will be a ceremony on Friday, April 7th at 11:00am at the National World War II Memorial on the Mall. The event is hosted by the Embassy of the Philippines and the Filipino Veterans Recognition and Education Project (FilVetREP). April 9th is a national holiday in the Philippines, The Day of Valor (Araw ng Kagitingan).

At 2:00pm and 4:00pm that afternoon at the WWII Memorial, Park Ranger Paul O’Brian will give a 30 minute presentation on the April 4, 1943 escape by 10 POWs from the Davao Penal Colony on Mindanao in the Philippines. They were led by Texas airman Lt. William Dyess, who told his story to the Chicago Tribune. The series of interviews, published in January 1944 after Dyess’ death in December 1943 in an airplane accident, embedded the phrase “Bataan Death March” in the American lexicon.

In San Francisco, the Bataan Death March 81st Anniversary Commemoration will be held April 15 from 10:00am-Noon at the San Francisco National Cemetery. The event is hosted by the Bataan Legacy Historical Society in partnership with the San Francisco National Cemetery & VFW 91st Division/Chinatown Post 4618. Link to registration.

Mindy Kotler Smith
American Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor Memorial Society