George Carroll Smart was the first soldier from Beaumont, Texas to give his life in World War I. He was only 19 years old when he died on July 15, 1918 near the tiny French village of Dommartin-Dampierre, in the second Battle of the Marne.
His father was The Reverend John Allen Smart, pastor of several Baptist churches in and around Beaumont.
Reverend Smart had the unfortunate task of not only planning his son’s funeral, but writing the eulogy. While filled with grief, he also recognized the tremendous cause for which Carroll had died, and wanted to make clear the cost of freedom. He was simultaneously heartbroken, yet steadfast in his faith in God’s plan and proud his son had died for such a noble cause.
After writing the eulogy, he worried he would not be able to deliver it without being overcome with emotion. He asked a friend, Leon Sonfield, to read it for him.
The church was swarmed that Sunday with an overflow crowd, as mourners spilled out from the doors and into the streets. The funeral opened with the singing of “America” and “Onward Christian Soldiers.” Beaumont’s prominent citizens came to the altar to speak of the Great War, which had just taken its first life from the city.
It was then that Sonfield stepped forward to read these words:
Fellow citizens, brothers and friends, for fear I could not speak to you from my heart as I would like to, I have chosen this way to express my feelings.
This is not a dark hour for me. Everything is as bright as the promise of God. My house of hope is on a strong foundation.
‘Let not your heart be troubled. Ye believe in God, believe in me also. In my Father’s house are many mansions, if it were not so I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. I will come again and receive you unto myself that where I am, there ye may be also.’
‘For we know that if our earthly house of this Tabernacle be dissolved, we have a building of God, made with eternal hands in the heavens. Lo I am with you always, even unto the end of this world.’
‘For all things work together, for good to them that love God, to them who are called to His purpose. My grace is sufficient for thee.’
Things could have been worse for my son. It might have been worse had he been reported missing and had never been found. We could have never recovered from the shock. Had he been severely wounded and had to suffer for months, it could have been worse. Again, had he been taken prisoner, starved and treated cruelly by the Huns, it would have been worst of all. So it is best as it is.
His life as a young man and a soldier was full of joy. He passed through the valley and is resting quietly and peacefully on the beautiful hills beyond, patiently and anxiously awaiting the resurrection morn, when his Savior shall come to gather up His jewels. Then in the resurrection life, he and his loved ones and all the redeemed shall live with the Lord in the new Heaven and the new Earth through the eternal ages.
I have not a criticism or murmur or complaint to make. I willingly accept the present facts and conditions. He has made the greatest sacrifice possible He died in the noblest way a solider can die, at his post of duty. I have given the greatest sacrifice to my country that is in my power to give. I do it cheerfully. I stand ready to make any other sacrifice my country demands.
Fellow citizens, let us me true to our country to the last drop of blood.
Christian men and women, let us humble ourselves in the dust, repent and pray.
Soldier boys, make haste to accept Jesus Christ as your Personal Savior, that He may help you fight the battle for liberty and righteousness.
To all my friends: I thank you for your great kindness and sympathy.