Harry Smith has worn a lot of hats in his life.
He wore railroad hats as a switchman, brakeman and conductor during 42 years with the Texas and Pacific Railway.
He wore a cowboy hat given to him by Amon Carter Jr. when he was a horse show superintendent at the Fort Worth Stock Show.
And he wore a “tin hat” when he served as an infantryman in the Pacific during World War II.
But when people look for Smith to shake his hand on Military Appreciation Day today, they will probably recognize him by his black felt, Fedora-like hat that he’s been wearing for years.
Smith, 89, began his involvement with the Stock Show in about 1963. He said he always looks forward to the annual Military Appreciation Day.
“I like to see those military men come in,” Smith said. “I do to them what so many people do to me — thank them for their service.”
Smith, who rode American saddlebred horses in his showing days, knows something about service. He served the Stock Show for decades as second-in-command to longtime horse show manager Doug Mitchell.
“Whatever needed to be done, I did it. Anything went wrong, [Mitchell] always said, ‘Go see Harry Smith,’ ” he said with a laugh.
The Bell County native, who moved to Fort Worth before before he started his education at Riverside Elementary School, remains a fixture at the Stock Show even though, in his words, “I am coasting now.”
It’s hard to accept that Smith is capable of coasting through anything.
His memories of Stock Shows past are filled with disputes (he was the complaint department, after all), outright fights, daunting problems (like how to put 1,000 horses in 600 stalls) and lots of funny stories involving props such as hats and rubber chickens falling from the rodeo arena rafters.
He has not coasted along in his post-Stock Show life, either.
“I’ve got about 20 fiddle players in Branson, Mo., that I do all the [instrument maintenance] work for,” Smith said.
His Branson client list includes Shoji Tabuchi, one of the most popular acts. Smith also looked after the violins used by country great Roy Clark.
“This one is mine,” he said, displaying a smartphone photo of a 1710 violin believed to be made by Guarneri, an 18th-century instrument maker considered on par with Stradivari and Amati.
And Smith certainly wasn’t coasting when he served in the Pacific in 1944-45.
As an 18-year-old soldier in the 132nd Infantry Regiment of the Army’s Americal Division, he did some island hopping in the Pacific before taking part in the occupation of Japan. The worst was Cebu Island in the Philippines, he said.
“We fought every day for 82 straight days on that island. That’s where you grew up from a kid to a man. You grew up fast.” said Smith.
“The worst thing I ever encountered was losing a man in combat and having to ‘field bury’ him in his poncho on the spot. Then, when it was all over with, one of you had to go back and find him. That was always a sad situation.”
Smith still has a hard time with those memories.
“I don’t go to these VFW Halls and I don’t go to the American Legion,” he said. “All of them are rehashing the days when they were fighting World War II. I don’t do a lot of talking about old memories, because you can close your eyes and see what was happening. But there is no need to refresh them every day.”
He has moved on.
“I came home and went to work and put the service behind me.”