[photopress:Shumway_1943_708.jpg,thumb,pp_style]by Beth S. Moore
One of the last World War II warriors is dying, but happy. Death is not the end, and a beloved daughter and wife are waiting to greet him. His life of darkness, filled with the light of the gospel and his strong faith, will be over.
How well I remember that telegram addressed to our parents in 1944: “We regret to inform you that your son, Hyrum Smith Shumway has been wounded in action.”
Memories of him as a healthy, athletic, fun loving boy contrasted with his new life, blinded by a land mine in France shortly after the D-Day invasion.
He was an ideal big brother. He taught me to count, listened to me read, taught me to jump rope, ride a bicycle, and dance. Most important, he taught me never to give up.
Then came the war and our lives changed forever. My first sight of a changed brother in the second part of his life was in Dibble Hospital in California. The man in uniform with the scarred face, missing teeth, blackened skin from powder burns, walking with measured gait, holding a white cane couldn’t be my beloved brother, but it was.
The memory of Smith’s last leave before he shipped overseas was of a handsome, healthy young man, the sun reflecting off his lieutenant’s bars, the breeze blowing strawberry blonde hair, hazel eyes sparkling, and a beautiful smile. But that was then, this was now.
Never did he mention how the war had interrupted his medical school. There was no self pity, no thinking of “what might have been.” Instead he immediately checked his options, soon realizing that a vast void existed for blind people.
As other blind boys came pouring into the hospital the doctors and nurses told us how Smith helped them. He inspired them by showing them they could still have a great life. They were strengthened by his courage and faith.
When he came home on his first furlough to our little town in Wyoming, an aunt whose son had been a prisoner of war for two years had come home unharmed. She told my parents if they’d had more faith, Smith would have come home whole, too. My little mother straightened up and said, “we believe in praying thy will be done, and so does Smith.”
H. Smith Shumway was a remarkable man, as anyone associated with work for the blind can verify.
He’s been in several Who’s Who books, and received many awards. He was knighted by the French Government and was given the Legion of Honor for his wartime service and subsequent work for the Blind. He has blessed countless lives.
His faith in his Heavenly Father has never wavered. President Monson has honored Smith and his wife, Sarah, on world wide television during conference two different times. Articles have appeared in the Church Ensign several times. A short time ago President Monson wrote him a personal letter stating that he was the epitome of unwavering faith and example.
Smith had a surprising side. He was an accomplished magician and a member of the national magician’s organization. He performed wherever he was asked. The audience thought they were humoring a blind man, but they ended up wildly applauding because he was good.
Smith was an accomplished harmonica and violin player. He played in three bands in Cheyenne, Wyoming, playing anywhere they were invited.
After the war Smith married his college sweetheart, Sarah. They had a wonderful marriage and raised eight outstanding children. I remember once tip- toeing after him while he went from child to child to hear their prayers. He would touch their faces lightly with his hands, and I knew he could see them in his mind.
After Smith retired from his position as administrator of the blind for the state of Wyoming, he and Sarah traveled, visited, and were having a wonderful life. But tragedy struck. Their fifth daughter died from cancer, leaving four young children. Only two years later Sarah died from cancer, too.
Losing his wife was harder than losing his sight. Yet he never complained nor wavered in his faith and strength, continuing to set an example. He believes he’s helped and reached many people because of his disability, and he’d be the first to tell you that it’s been worth it. Never has he regretted the sacrifice he gave for his country.
Smith made the world a better place for having lived. Despite his trials, or perhaps because of them, his life has been filled with profitable service to so many of Heavenly Father’s children.
Indeed, he pushed back the darkness with the light of Christ.