Guest Author - Vance Rowe
When you were ten years old, what were your biggest worries? I don’t remember what my biggest worries were at age ten but they certainly didn’t have to do with war or politics of any kind. This is not the case with a ten year old little girl named Samantha Smith. In November of 1982, ten year old Samantha Smith wrote a letter to the Soviet Premier Yuri Andropov and in this letter she asked him why he wanted to conquer the world and what he was doing to make sure that there would not be a nuclear war between the United States and Russia. Her letter was published in the Soviet newspaper Pravda and while Smith was happy about this, she was not happy that she received no letter back from the Russian leader and then wrote a letter to the Russian Ambassador to the United States asking if Mister Andropov was going to answer her letter.
On April 26, 1983 Samantha Smith received her response from Andropov. In the letter, Yuri Andropov praised her for her bravery and courage and likened her to Becky Thatcher, Tom Sawyer’s friend from the novel, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain. He also told her how no one in Russia wanted a war with anyone including the United States and told her how horrible it was when Germany invaded Russia during World War II and how they were able to defeat Germany with the United States as their allies. He also invited her to Russia to show her how the people in the country lived and to prove to her they wanted nothing more than peace and also invited her to visit a children’s camp on the Black Sea, called Artek. Of course, the Russian Embassy, wanting to give Russia some good press, had notified the media and let them know when Samantha Smith would be receiving the letter from Yuri Andropov and the Smith house had reporters camped out in the yard, waiting for the letter to arrive.
Samantha Smith was interviewed by the likes of Ted Koppel on the Nightline television news program and by Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show. In July 1983, Samantha Smith flew to Russia with her parents and received a kind of heroes’ welcome. Smith and her parents were shuttled around by limousine and visited Leningrad and Moscow. Samantha Smith spent some time at Artek and chose to stay in one of the dormitories with nine other girls, all of whom spoke English. She chose to stay in the dormitory instead of the more privileged accommodations offered to her. However, during the trip, she could not meet with Yuri Andropov as he was very sick and was out of the public eye but she did get to talk with him on the telephone.
When the Smiths returned home, Samantha Smith wrote a book about her trip, became a goodwill ambassador, spoke at a symposium in Japan, and even got a guest starring role on a television series called Lime Street. In 1985, Samantha Smith and her father, sadly, were killed in a plane crash from Boston to Maine due to bad weather, pilot error, and miscommunication from the control tower. Her memory lived on though as she was immortalized in a Russian commemorative stamp, two schools in the United States changed their name to hers, a monument in Russia was built in her honor and a place at Artek camp called “Samantha Smith Alley was named after her. A diamond found in the mountains of Siberia and an asteroid discovered by a Russian astronomer was named after her as well.
Also as was decreed by state law, the first Monday in June in Maine is called Samantha Smith Day. Her funeral was held in Augusta, Maine and was attended by a thousand mourners including actor Robert Wagner, her co-star on the television show “Lime Street”. Her mother received a letter from Mikhail Gorbachev and from the United States President Ronald Reagan. The remains of Samantha Smith and her father were cremated.