A few years back my son, wanting to save a few dollars on his daily commute to his summer job found a scooter for sale. To his mother’s chagrin, i accompanied him to look at the scooter and supported him when he expressed a desire to complete the purchase. Eighteen months later and the same scooter, a 2004 Yamaha Zuma had fallen into disinterest. The scooter sat in my garage becoming a shelf and closet for whatever it might hold. Never did I imagine it was through this threshold that I would meet such an amazing individual.
I urged my son to put an ad in the paper or on Craigslist and sell it. It didn’t sell and my son, while a great kid has a nasty streak causing him to procrastinate more than what I find acceptable. My wife, expressing a desire to have garage sale, suggested we try and sell it at the garage sale. The nonbeliever in me said, “Go for it! It’s your garage sale.” The morning of the second day this guy walks up the driveway. he brings with him a friend who I later come to know as David Smithers. I was sitting in my backyard reading and trying to tolerate the humidity when I heard David’s youthful (aged 79) exuberance. He was out of sight from where I was sitting but I know and English accent when I hear one. The conversation between David and my wife began to turn toward motorcycles, Triumph is David’s ride of choice, and the price of petrol in pounds per liter. I was intrigued and rose to meet David who I had come to find out was not interested in the scooter but had come with his friend Mark.
Mark expressed an interest but I didn’t believe he would follow through. When he called and arrived to make an offer he again brought with him his friend David. This time David engaged me in a conversation and in his friendly, free-wheeling style began to tell me the story of the friend he has been looking for since the two had met over fifty years ago.
This is a warm and beautiful story. It’s a story of friendship, love, hope and perseverance. A story of what, in my opinion friendship should be.
I’m not sure if David will ever attain his goal of finding his long lost friend but something tells me the friendships he has made along the way will offer him some level of comfort in his search.
I am going to let Jane Kwiatowski tell the story in an article which was printed in the Buffalo New in 2004
I hope you enjoy this amazing story of friendship as much as I did.
To appreciate this story, one must first understand David Smithers, his passion for life, his penchant for making friends and the resolve that has brought this gritty Brit across an ocean to Buffalo in search of a wartime friend.
“Maybe Bob’s getting old now,” Smithers said. “Surely he must have some sons or daughters or someone like that who can tell me something. I do know that he loved Buffalo. He never stopped talking about Buffalo and his girlfriend. I just would like, in my mind, to know: “Bob, are you in Buffalo? Are you alive? I want to say hello to you. I have never forgotten our friendship.’ “
Smithers met Robert E. Drimmer in a hospital during the Korean War some five decades ago. The two young men were stationed in Pusan, South Korea – Smithers with the British Army and Drimmer with the U.S. Army. At the time they met, Smithers was visiting a friend in the same ward as Drimmer. When the friend was released, Smithers continued going to the hospital every other day to visit Drimmer, who was being treated for a stomach ailment.
“I was 19 and he was 25,” Smithers said. “He was quite clever, a nice guy, and we talked of things to do when we got home. I told him about England. He told me about America. We became good friends. Would you look for someone all this time if you were not his good friend?
“I told Bob that one day, I would walk up his garden path to knock on his door because I promised I would do it. I absolutely will never ever forget that to the day I die. He lived then in Buffalo, N.Y., and he had a girlfriend here. For years, I’ve been thinking about seeing Bob.”
Smithers went on to join the British Merchant Navy, married and started a family, yet the memory of the friendship that formed between the two veterans remains strong. His visit this month marks the fourth time the 70-year-old veteran has traveled to Buffalo, part of a search that he started in earnest in 1960. He’s scoured telephone books, explored library archives, petitioned veterans’ groups – all in search of the man who touched his life so many years ago.
“I took him to be a very very clean-living man,” Smithers recalls. “The reason I say this is because I also had some friends who were American Marines. When I went out with them, it was a totally different situation – womanizing and beer drinking. Me and Bob would have a drink and we would talk a lot about Buffalo. We were supposed to keep in touch, but I lost his address because I then went into hospital.”
As he sits on a bench near the Buffalo and Erie County Naval & Military Park, he tells about his six children, his hobby of Chinese cooking and of life in Bournemouth, a coastal town in southern England with seven miles of beaches. He usually wears a Union Jack pin on his collar, Smithers explains, but on this day he is dressed “young.” Golden medallions, chunky rings and a flat cap dress up this European vacationer – not to mention a sea of tattoos on his arms.
Seated by his side is Mark Prine, a new friend discovered in the City of Good Neighbors. At age 32, Prine coaches football at Seneca High School. The Buffalo native recalls his parents repeatedly chiding him for talking to strangers, but that didn’t stop him from engaging Smithers in conversation in a downtown bar.
It was summer of 2000, and Smithers – only hours in Buffalo – was coming off a rough night in a dirty hotel room where a woman offered him a rubdown and the television looked like it came “out of the Ark.” He was scared, alone and quickly forming a bad opinion of Buffalo. When he saw Prine, he decided to strike up a conversation.
“And there he sat in his monkey suit,” Smithers recalled, “and I thought, “What a weird guy,’ in the middle of the afternoon sitting in a monkey suit drinking Southern Comfort.”
Dressed in a tuxedo for his job as a waiter, Prine had been killing time.
“He made a comment to me,” Prine said. “We started talking, and I found his story very intriguing. I was upset that Buffalo wasn’t all he thought it would be. He said he didn’t like Buffalo and that he wanted to leave. I was there to prove him wrong. I lived here my whole life and I took that as an insult, so I offered to take him to Chippewa.”
A night on the town was followed by a day at the beach, which was followed by a trip to Niagara Falls with Prine and his girlfriend. And so it began, the type of friendship Buffalonians tend to form over time.
“I wanted him to always feel comfortable coming back to Buffalo,” Prine said. “We consider him family now.”
Year after year, Smithers returns to continue the hunt for his war mate, staying with one of Prine’s relatives – new friends helping in the search for an old friend. Sometimes, they drive through Delaware Park.
“I do have that feeling that he is with us,” said Smithers. “And I do get that feeling that he still is in Buffalo. And I get strange feelings. For some reason, when we drive through that park, when I see these big houses, I think of Bob and I think that he would have done well for himself, maybe even become a lawyer or something like that.”
At one point, the search led to Florida after a call to one of the five Drimmers listed in the Buffalo phone directory yielded a Dr. Drimmer who had moved south. Smithers jumped on the lead, but as the the costs of the long-distance phone bills mounted, Smithers determined he had reached another dead end.
Drimmer would be 76 now, and Smithers realizes he must start facing the possibility that he may never again see his friend alive.
“I would be quite upset, but not terribly upset if something came of this story and I was told Bob passed away,” Smithers said. “I would go visit his grave then, put a bunch of flowers on it and say: “I told you I’d be here, buddy.”
BY Jane Kwiatkowski – NEWS STAFF REPORTER
on August 25, 2004