An American Patriot
Maryan Harris is a patriot. Who else would stuff her stomach with bananas and several quarts of water to qualify to serve her country? It is in her blood, Maryan descends from Hardy Smith of the Revolution and Andrew Pickens, her 4th great-grandfather and South Carolina militia leader, who was the model for Mel Gibson's character in The Patriot. She wanted to serve, but admittedly Maryan joined the Women Accepted for Volunteer Service Emergency Service (W.A.V.E.S) just for the adventure of it.
Maryan Harley Smith was born in 1918. She graduated from Wesleyan College in Macon, joining her mother, Annie Pickens Simons Smith, and her grandmother, Mary Pickens Simons as alumnae of the world's first chartered women's college. The oldest daughter of Charles Manly Smith, Maryan obtained her Master's Degree in Social Science Work from the University of Louisville.
When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, Maryan Smith was already serving her country as a teacher in Thomasville, Georgia. After the shock of that day began to wane, Maryan made the decision to join the WAVES. "I had heard about the service organizations for women and I thought I would like to join the WAVES," Harris recalled. She traveled from Greenwood to Columbia to take the entrance examination. "That morning I was a little bit under weight, so I ate lots of bananas and drank lots of water to try to raise my weight a little bit," Harris fondly recalled. She reached her goal, but couldn't stretch her under regulation height enough to meet the requirements. "But they accepted me anyway when they saw I was healthy," Maryan recalled.
It was in the spring of 1943 when Maryan Smith first took her physical and written examinations. At the time of her induction on June 5, 1943, Maryan was sent to Smith College in North Hampton, Massachusetts for four weeks of basic training. "That was a wonderful experience. I had never been in the Northeast. North Hampton was a beautiful old town. We marched everywhere we went. They had a wonderful restaurant that was well known for its delicious food. That's where we had our meals. We had to march from the college to the restaurant every time we ate. The food was wonderful. I really enjoyed that," Smith fondly recollected.
Despite the strenuous requirements of basic training, Smith enjoyed her first days in the WAVES. "We had to learn to keep our rooms in "apple pie" order. I remember mitering the beds. I would bruise my knuckles trying to get the cover tight enough to bounce a dime. They would come around and inspect the room with white gloves. If they found anything wrong, you got a demerit," she reminisced. One trivial incident was still firm in her mind. Maryan recalled the time her unit had an inspection. The inspecting officer said, "There is an article adrift". "We looked everywhere and finally found one little bobby pin in one corner of the room. I guess that was the "article adrift," Maryan recalled.
Maryan and her fellow WAVES studied everything from military history to anything pertaining to the Navy and surface craft. Although she was not trained in communication, Maryan was sent to Miami for her tour of duty in communications. Assigned to the 7th Naval District, Maryan had the very interesting duty of coding and decoding messages. Never able to get used to the graveyard shift of midnight to morning, Maryan stayed awake by drinking gallons of coffee.
"We sent messages to and from the surface ships. The PT boats and destroyer escorts came into Miami to get their supplies. One of Maryan's most memorable moments of her tour of duty came when she and other WAVES took a ride out to the island to watch the filming of the movie, They Were Expendable. "It was about the PT boats and their mission during the war. Robert Taylor and John Wayne were in the movie. That was a lot of fun. I was in that group. I got to see John Wayne and Robert Taylor do their thing," remembered the former Lieutenant Junior Grade. "I never did meet them personally; they didn't want to get that close to the public. On one occasion they took us aboard a destroyer and showed us all around. That was interesting," Mrs. Harris said.
Maryan would often pinch herself and say, "Is this really me?" as she enjoyed the subtropical life of tall palms and blue water in Miami and Coral Gables, where she had the chance to room with her sister Dorothy "Dottie," also a Wesleyan graduate. Life in South Florida was not all fun. She managed to dodge a hurricane, but had to eat all too much spam her sister Dottie had stocked up on in case disaster struck her apartment.
Still wanting adventures, Maryan asked for a transfer to California. Instead, she was sent to the nation's capital for the last ten months of her tour of duty. Although she didn't enjoy Washington as much as Miami, Maryan enjoyed her time there as well.
Life in the WAVES wasn't everything to Maryan. Before the war, she met John Joseph Harris, Jr., who was stationed at Spence Field in Moultrie, a few miles distant from Thomasville. Ironically, Harris was assigned to the 121st Georgia Infantry, which was established in Dublin in 1919 and was composed of many soldiers from Laurens County and around the state of Georgia. While Maryan was stationed in Miami, the couple got to see each other on several occasions before he shipped out to the European Theater in 1944.
Eleven months after the end of the war in Europe, John and Maryan joined hands in marriage. "If I had not met John and wanted to get married, I would have stayed in the service." Maryan was officially discharged about a month after their marriage.
Washington held fond memories for Maryan. "When I was in Washington, they declared VJ Day and everyone poured out of the offices and everybody went downtown singing, waving flags and hugging each other whether you knew them or not. We were all so happy the war was over," she fondly recollected. The Harrises moved to Dublin after John's retirement as a defense analyst. They had one son, John K. Harris.
Maryan Smith Harris went back to serving her community. As a volunteer for the Laurens County Historical Society, and a long time member of the Daughters of the American Revolution, and her beloved Christ Episcopal Church, Maryan continued to help others.
On this Veteran's Day, remember those who have served our country in war and peace. And, remember those who still serve, the true American patriots.
This article was based on an interview with Mrs. Harris by Mac Fowler ten years ago.