Don was born June 13, 1919 in Burwell, Neb., to William Bruce and Anna Belle (Davis) Smith. Don's mother died in 1921 when he was only two years of age; he was cared for in the next 3-4 years by relatives in Nebraska. When Don was 14 years old, his father passed away during the Great Depression in 1933; the family farm with a sod house was auctioned to pay funeral expenses, and the children were on their own.
A funeral service was held at 10 a.m. Tuesday, Oct. 31, at Taylor Funeral Service Hotchkiss Chapel, 209 Bridge Street, with interment to follow at Riverside Cemetery.
Don worked in the Civilian Conservation Corp in Nebraska before hitchhiking to Baker, Ore., where he worked on ranches. As World War II was ramping up, he moved to San Diego, Calif., where he found work in an aircraft factory.
Don was drafted into the U.S. Army as a Conscientious Objector on Oct. 27, 1942. He was trained as a front-line medic in Camp Barkley, Texas, and then saw action in Morocco (North Africa) and in Sicily (Italy). Don was assigned to a Ranger battalion within the Third Army Division for the invasion of mainland Italy at Anzio. He and many of his fellow Rangers were captured on Jan. 30, 1944, by the German army. His injury from shrapnel from a bomb earned Don the Purple Heart. He spent most of the next 439 days as a prisoner-of-war working on a farm west of Gdansk, Poland. Don and many of his fellow prisoners were liberated on the west bank of the Elbe River in Germany after a multi-week forced march on foot in winter along the shores of the Baltic Sea to stay in front of the advancing Russian troops coming from the east. Don chronicled these experiences, with humor possible only after the passage of decades of time, in the booklet Medic Up Front.
Don met Lois Cunningham in San Diego in 1942 and they were married after he returned from the war on March 8, 1946. After marriage, Don and Lois lived in San Diego where their twin sons, William H. (Bill) and Don P. II (Donnie) were born in 1949.
In 1950 Don and Lois moved to Nebraska to ranch. In 1952 they moved to Littlefield, Texas, and then in 1954 they moved to Hotchkiss, Colo., where they farmed on Rogers Mesa. Don also enjoyed trapping predators for sheep ranchers. They sold the farm in 1999 and moved to Austin, Colo. In 2012 Don and Lois moved into Crossroads Assisted Living in Delta, Colo.
Don is survived by his sons, Bill (Donna) from Calgary, Alberta and Don (Linda) from Central Point, Ore. He is survived by his grandchildren, Pam (Damon) Struckmeyer from Holyoke, Colo.; Pete Nelson (Michele Long), Austin, Texas; Andrew Smith (Janet), Des Moines, Iowa; Eric Smith (Cherine), Draper, Utah; LCDR Matthew Smith USN (Carolbeth), Memphis, Tenn.; and Jessica Morrison (Neil) of Toronto, Ontario.
Don is also survived by great grandchildren Mariah, Sidney and Baylor Struckmeyer, Elizabeth and Samantha Daily, Rylin and Soren Smith, and Isla Morrison.
Don is also survived by numerous nieces and nephews and many wonderful friends.
Don is predeceased by his wife, Lois; his parents, William Bruce and Anna Belle Smith; his sisters, Dessie May Grieser, Helen Emolyn Butcher and Dorothy Smith; and his brother, Leroy Smith. He is also predeceased by grandson LeRoy Smith and great-grandson Westyn Struckmeyer.
The family is deeply grateful to the staffs of Crossroads Assisted Living and Hope West Hospice for their kindness and wonderful care of Don during his time in their facility, and especially after the passing of Lois in July 2016. They are also grateful to Lonnie and Lois Shenold for their loving care for Don and Lois for the past several years. Only the Lord can fully understand how the traumatic events that Don suffered as a small child and as a young adult shaped his personality. Don was later in life diagnosed with combat post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The family thanks those who loved and cared for him, and would like to raise the general awareness of PTSD.
Donations may be made in lieu of flowers to HopeWest, PO Box 24 Delta, CO 81416.
Arrangements are under the care and direction of Taylor Funeral Service and Crematory.
View the internet obituary and sign the online guest registry at www.taylorfuneralservice.com.