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January 25, 2023 53 mins

At one of the most dangerous moments in the Cold War, an ordinary 5th grade girl from Maine wrote to the leader of the Soviet Union with a simple plea for peace. When he wrote back with an invitation to visit the Soviet Union in the summer of 1982, it became an international news story and one of the most improbable peace missions of the era. Mo tells the story of the “Littlest Diplomat” and how she became a powerful symbol of shared humanity on both sides of the iron curtain. Guests include childhood friends of Samantha, her Russian “summer camp buddy” and actor Robert Wagner. 

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Episode Transcript

Available transcripts are automatically generated. Complete accuracy is not guaranteed.
Speaker 1 (00:03):
Like most of my generation, I grew up scared as
hell of nuclear armageddon. Sometimes my father would sit at
the edge of my bed and tell me not to worry,
that nuclear war wouldn't happen, precisely because the superpowers had
the capacity to blow each other up the military doctrine
of mutual assured destruction. I'm not sure if he believed

it or if he was just trying to make me
feel better. Roger, this is not an exercise. But I
was worried enough that I made sure to watch a
made for TV movie on ABC called The Day After.
It aired right before Thanksgiving with limited commercials, so you
knew this was a really big deal. It depicted the

destruction of Kansas City after a nuclear attack. Roger understanding
missiles and bound Nountain. The Day After was shockingly graphic
for the time. What I remember most, though, isn't the
scene of the incineration a lot of people turning into skeletons,
but the scene right before. A character played by Jason

Robards is driving on the highway when enemy nuclear weapons
detonate overhead. Suddenly, all the cars simply stopped running. They
go silent. Robards and the other drivers tried turning their ignitions,
but nothing. In other words, a nuclear bomb would subvert

nature on such an elemental molecular level that cars everywhere
would just go dead. I have no idea that the
science on this checks out, but watching it then it
was so completely unnerving. I was fourteen when the movie
came out, a few years too old to admit how

scared I was, but it's a good bet that most
of the record breaking one hundred million Americans who watched
that movie were just as afraid. We did watch it
as a family, and it was deeply disturbing. I still
have images in my head of it just being gray
and dark, and people staggering through the destroyed wilderness. What

we have seen, the missiles launched, the nuclear explosions, the
devastating results, was all fiction. But what brought us to
that point is fact. It's something we've been living with
for years. It's the arms race. But not everyone was
paralyzed by the fear of nuclear war. The previous November,

a schoolgirl from Maine, a few years younger than me,
decided to do something. She wrote a letter, a letter
that asked a simple, eminently sane, and sensible question. Somehow
Samantha managed to boil things down to the essence. We
are all human beings and we shouldn't be looking to

annihilate each other. And that letter made big news, and finally, tonight,
the story of Samantha Smith, a ten year old girl
from Manchester, Maine. At one of the tensest periods in
Cold War history, Samantha Smith ended up going to the
Soviet Union. The people that have been to the Soviet
Union have a definite answer, them not wanting more and

wanting peace, just like I do. She was an ordinary
girl with an uncommon touch. She was that beam of
sunshine that broke through the cold ice of cold work.
Her life may have been short, she had such potential
mo she could have done anything, but she left a
powerful legacy and her short thirteen years she did more

than a lot of people do. In fifty from CBS
Sunday Morning, and I Heart, I'm Morocca And this is mobituaries,
This mobid Samantha Smith. August the death of a peacemaker.

Hi nice squeezed and I think At Manchester Elementary School
in Manchester, Maine, the story of its most notable alum
lives on. So today we're talking about Samantha Smith, who
was a student at this school. Teachers like Mrs O'Brien

have been telling Samantha Smith's story for forty years. So
she and her parents traveled to the Soviet Union. And
this is a picture of Samantha holding up the letter
she became famous and this shy, really sweet little girl
from Manchester, Maine, all of a sudden was being interviewed.

Look at all the microphones in front of her. Samantha's
story makes an immediate impression on the kids. What is
the thing that sort of stands out? Um, probably how
she's always smiling, Um, that she's always happy. She could
It's basically like she could walk into any room with
people at are grouchy and she can cheer him up

in a matter of seconds. That's wild to be in
this school that she went to, Yah, And I think
that's the great part for the kids when they're sitting
in the classroom and you can say, like, this is
where she sat. I mean, so she was just like you.
Jessica Dwyer is another one of the teachers telling Samantha's

story today. She really knows the subject matter. Jessica and
Samantha were students at this school together forty years ago
and close friends. The pictures that I have, the memories
that I have, which are fading, I think because it's
been a while. She was always giggling and laughing. That's

what I remember. Jessica met Samantha in the third grade
when the Smith family first moved to Manchester, a town
of about two thousand, just a few miles outside of Augusta,
Mains Capital. It must have been hard to join as
a new kid, but it did not take her long
at all to develop lots of friends. Sarah Warren was

another classmate and friend of Samantha's. Her mom was a
Girl Scout troop leader, so we used to have some
of our troop meetings at their house. Samantha's mother, Jane Smith,
was a social worker for the State of Maine. Samantha
was an only child. Samantha was just a very extroverted,
bubbly kid. I can remember we were trying to learn

how to dance like Michael Jackson because that was the
era of thriller. So we were in the living room,
you know, trying to learn how to moonwalk, and Samantha
was leading the way. So she was she was fun.
Samantha's father, Arthur Smith, was a college English professor. When

Samantha was little, she would sit in on some of
his classes, including one he taught about letter writing. At
age five, Samantha wrote a letter to the Queen of
England and got a postcard response from her lady in waiting. Yeah. See,
I mean I wrote to the American presidents, but I
don't know that it ever occurred to me to write
to leaders of other countries. Oh, Sarah, you needed to

think bigger, You needed to go global. I got there eventually.
Sarah now works in the Baltimore Public School system. Before that,
she spent many years doing aid work overseas, including in
war zones, partly inspired by what Samantha did back three

when they were just kids. I'm just a few years
older than you are. I remember being terrified by the
idea of nuclear war. Were you were you scared? I
was terrified. I can remember a period of time in
the fourth grade where I woke up every day with

a stomachache, and it was because I was afraid of war.
It felt like a real possibility there for for a
period of time. And I remember that especially in the
fourth grade, which I guess must have been impressing Samantha
to you know, and been pressing on her mind, because um,
that was around you know, the time that she ended

up writing a letter. Ah, yes, the letter. We'll get
to that, but first some context. In November of two,
Soviet leader Leoned Bresnev died after eighteen years in power. Now,
as a kid, I remember the Soviet leaders as a
succession of crypt keepers, each one more ghoulish than the

one who came before. The guy who took over right
after Bresnev was a former head of the KGB spy
agency named Yuri and drop Of. As ambassador to Budapest
in nifty six, he oversaw the suppression of the Hungarian Revolution.
As head of the KGB for fifteen years, he directed
the Soviet campaign against the dissident movement. To soften and

Dropov's image, the Kremlin pr operation not exactly. Madison Avenue
put out that the new leader spoke fluent English and
loved American jazz, So relax everyone, this Soviet leader was
a hepcat. It was around this time that Samantha was

watching a science program about nuclear war on public TV
that scared her much like the day after would later
scare me. She couldn't shake that idea that I could
all be over tomorrow. Looking for some reassurance, Samantha and
her mother Jane, together read in November cover story of
Time magazine about and drop off. It didn't make Samantha

any less worried, and she told her mother that her
mother should write a letter and Jane, her mom apparently
turned around and said, will you write the letter? And
I do think that her writing a letter as a
child was much more powerful than any adult writing a letter.

She wrote the following words, Dear Mr androp Off, my
name is Samantha Smith. I am ten years old. Congratulations
on your new job. I have been worrying about Russia
and the United States getting into a nuclear war. Are
you going to vote to have a war or not?
If you aren't, please tell me how you are going

to help to not have a war. This question you
do not have to answer, but I would like it
if you would. Why do you want to conquer the
world or at least our country. God made the world
for us to share and take care of, not to
fight over or have one group of people own it all.
Please let's do what he wanted and have everybody be
happy to Samantha Smith, Manchester, Main, USA, PS, please right

back out of the mouths of babes, right, I mean,
why do you want to have a war with our country? Um?
Which is really what adults should be asking each other,
you know. I think sometimes adults over complicate things, and
she was getting down to the basics. At the time

Samantha wrote her letter, Soviet and American leaders hadn't held
a real meeting in five years. The Soviet Union's stock
pile of nuclear weapons had surpassed that of the US,
and neither superpower was backing away from the build up.
Do or prior, the doomsday clock, the symbol of how
close mankind was to annihilation stood it four minutes to midnight,

perilously close to midnight. While Samantha was waiting for a response,
U S President Ronald Reagan announced the Strategic Defense initiative,
called star Wars by the press. The program pledged hundreds
of billions of dollars to build a laser based system
to intercept Soviet missiles. The President also delivered his now

famous Evil Empire speech to the National Association of Evangelicals
in Orlando. I urge you to beware the temptation of pride,
the temptation of blithely declaring yourselves above it all, and
label both sides equally at fault, to ignore the facts
of history and the aggressive impulses of an evil empire,

to simply call the arms race a giant misunderstanding, and
thereby remove yourself from the struggle between right and wrong
and good and evil. Weeks later, the Soviet state newspaper
Pravda published an article featuring letters written by Westerners concerned
about nuclear war. They included Samantha's letter. The next day,

back at Manchester Elementary, the school secretary, Mrs Peabody called
Samantha into the principal's office to take a call from
an American reporter. Ten year old Samantha Smith of Manchester
Made was one of three Americans whose quotes appeared in
yesterday's edition of Pravda. She says she wanted to get
the complicated story cleared up ask him questions about nuculate

war because I wasn't I'm not that sure. It's a
little bit hard to understand the news that because they
put it in grown up words, you know, I can't
understand what they mean, but what Samantha really couldn't understand
Why didn't she receive a response? They published her letter
in Pravda, but Entropov couldn't write her back, so she
wrote another letter, this time to the Soviet embassy in Washington,

d c. Expressing her disappointment. A week later, she got
a call from a Soviet official a heavily accented voice,
telling her to watch the mail. At first, Samantha thought
it might be one of her dad's friends playing a joke.
It wasn't. Just a few days later, a special envelope
arrived at the small town post office, addressed to Samantha

and signed by Urie and drop off. Samantha and her
dad read the letter on the way to school, and
her dad wouldn't let her bring it to school because
she was He was afraid that she would lose it.
Can you picture your parents saying that you can't take
this important letter to school. It just came in the
mail at seven this morning. What do you think when

you go? I was happy. I was happy that he
had responded after I had already complained that he hadn't,
And it basically said that he didn't want to rule
the world. He did want to have a war that
he respected children, and he talked about the children and

his family. And drop Off compared her to the character
of Becky Thatcher in Mark Twain's Tom Sawyer, because he
wrote she was brave and smart, and he invited her
to come and visit the Soviet Union. Samantha, you recall,
is the eleven year old from Maine who wrote erion
drop Off about her concern over nuclear war. She says

she hardly expected a personal invitation to visit the Soviet Union.
Now it remains unclear if Andropov himself actually wrote the letter,
and it's impossible to know what the Kremlin's precise aim
was here. Inviting an American girl to the otherwise cloistered
nation was a dramatic public relations gambit for the newly

minted Soviet leader. One possibility, since the struggling Soviet economy
couldn't keep up with US defense spending, perhaps in drop
Off wanted instead to appeal directly to the American people
and undercut public support for Reagan's hardline stance against the Soviets.
Andropov has been trying hard to shed his bad cop image.

He left the KGB six months ago to improve his
chances for leadership. It wouldn't have been the first time
a Soviet leader tried to use a child to soften
his image. In ninety six, Joseph Stalin took a photo
embracing an adorable seven year old Indigenous Siberian girl named Gellia.

The image became iconic propaganda of the Stalinist era, depicted
in countless posters, murals, and sculptures, and no wonder, little
Gallia beams Stalin looks warm, positively paternal. But only a
year after the photo was taken, Gallia's parents were arrested

on suspicion of disloyalty, her father executed, and her mother
dying in exile. What did you really expect a happy ending?
We're talking Stalwin here now. A letter from the Soviet
leader to an American school kid would have made news
no matter what. But it just so happened that and
drop Off wrote to a kid with a charisma that

very soon captivated the media. She's a fifth grader who
wrote to and received the now famous letter from Soviet
leader Urie and drop Off. Would you welcome ten year
old Samantha Smith on The Tonight Show Johnny Carson introduced
Samantha to the world. She was funny. Are you getting

tired of answering all the questions that people like myself
when the people on the news show are asking you? Yes.
I remember her sitting in the chair and her little
legs dangling over and swinging because she could reached the floor.
And she was just bubbly and cute. She was unaffected.
How did you get the idea to write the letter? Well,

nukiwarved and on t be a lot lately and it
got to be so little steady on TV. I got scared.
It's remarkable how at ease she was. There's nothing kid
act or about her. You've never heard of me before
you came on the show. Ye did they tell you
anything about me? They told me or a median. What

immediately comes across is her smile. Whether it was her
natural disposition or the product of a happy upbringing, she
just had a great natural smile. This is no small thing.
I had a terrible smile when I was a kid.
Part of it was that I was trying to match
the smile of people on toothpaste commercials. A high bar,
I know. But I was in a song in dance

troop when I was in junior high and I needed
a smile to match the sequence we wore when we
performed at White Flint Mall in Rockville, Maryland. Anyway, I'll
never forget when one day in rehearsal, I was really
pushing my smile and the British director walked up to
me and said, I know what you think it looks like,
but it doesn't. It was devastating because she was right

after that, I stuck with a closed lip smile for
the rest of junior high and all of high school.
Samantha smile, on the other hand, was dynamite, as the
world could now see. I mean, that was big news
in Manchester Main. I don't think anything is big in
my recollection has happened before or since. The classmate, Jessica

Dwyer says that while she knew Samantha had poked her
head into the adult world in a big way, Samantha
herself kept things real. The period when Samantha got the
reply from her letter, it was kept very separate from us. Yes,
they the media was here, we'd be outside at recess,

but Samantha it wasn't something we talked about because I
think she didn't want to stand out in any way.
As for and drop offs invitation to visit the Soviet
Union this summer, Samantha is waiting for a decision by
her kitchen cabinet, her mom and dad. Samantha knew she
wanted to go. When she asked her father, he said,

we'll see. She knew he always said that before saying yes.
As she finished up fifth grade, Samantha made plans for
her diplomatic visit to the Soviet Union in July. Samantha
would later write, lots of questions came into my head
when I looked at pictures of Soviet people. I wondered

if I could be friends with Soviet kids. What they
think that I was a spy or that I was
afraid of them? What they think that I wanted to
conquer them. She flew with her parents, first to Boston,
then on to Montreal, where the press attention was already
starting to annoy. Her mom told me not to say
it is because it's not you. It's your job. I mean,

you're really pstoring. I ended a biting the nigrophore. But
the trip was not without risks coming up. Samantha's two
week adventure in the Soviet Union. So this is the

kind of folk art that she was given people who
gave all kinds of things, Lots of little dolls, lots
of little teddy bears. There must be forty teddy bears.
Lori Labar is chief curator of History and Decorative Arts
at the Main State Museum in Augusta. She's showing me
the gifts that Samantha Smith received on her trip to
the Soviet Union in the summer of three, including a

samovar from the Kremlin. This is beautiful. It's a tea urn. Essentially,
most tea goes in there, and the water goes in there.
And what did these gifts mean? I think they were
gifts of friendship, someone saying thank you for coming, Welcome
to my world. But at the heart of it, Samantha
was essentially saying, why can't we be friends? That's exactly

what she was saying. That was the whole trip. She
spent two weeks saying why can't we be friends. When
they arrived in Moscow, Samantha, who had just turned to Levin,
and her parents, Arthur and Jane, were greeted by guides
from the Soviet Friendship Society. They paid for the trip,
and Samantha gave a brief press conference for the thirty
or so reporters who would follow her on her trip.

He promised me that he wouldn't He wouldn't start a war.
Russia wouldn't start a war, and we America says that
they won't start a war either. Then how can we
keep making both for a warfare no one started? According
to Samantha's mother, the Smith's Soviet hosts asked the family

what they'd like to see, and then proceeded to help
the family what they were going to see. Samantha visited
Lennon's tomb, She tried chicken Kiev. She met Valentina Tereshkova,
the first female cosmonaut. Not everything went as planned. At
one point, the Soviet made limousine baring the Smith's broke down.

It was hastily replaced. Now, the US government avoided taking
any official position on Samantha's trip, not wanting to co
sign a Soviet propaganda ploy. I think they were very
worried because, you know, there could have been an accident.
She could have been a tool of the Soviet Union,
a propaganda duke. Yes, exactly Before they even left on

their trip, the Smith family was flooded with letters, many
from relatives of Soviet Jews desperate to leave the country.
The family shied away from any particular cause beyond peace,
but passed a packet of the letters along. They two
were worried about Samantha being a propaganda pawn. Once during

the trip, a group of students asked Samantha to sign
a petition that condemned US foreign policy, but one of
her Soviet guides swooped in before she could sign it.
When Samantha and her parents visited Red Square, her father Arthur,
was asked to lay a flower wreath on the tomb
of the Unknown Soldier, a monument to the Soviet World

War two dead. Afraid to offend his hosts, he went
ahead and did it. Fortunately this was before Twitter. Be
glad Samantha was already a household name and face across
the Soviet Union. As she put it herself, it's a
funny feeling to see articles about yourself with pictures in

a newspaper you can't read. Most surprising to the Russian
readers following her every move, Samantha had been invited to
Camp ar Tech on the Crimean Peninsula. It's a place
every Soviet kid dreamed of going. ARC Tech is one
place that Soviet leader Urion drop Off really wanted Samantha
to see, to meet and talk with kids her own age,

and to see for herself that everyone in the Soviet
Union wants peace and friendship. When it was Natalia Rosten,
I'm a teacher. It's been a long time since I've
sat in a second grade classroom chair. It's actually been
I guess, uh forty five years. But it feels nice. Yes,

I'm sitting in a chair made for a second grader.
And no, it actually doesn't feel nice. Yeah, and it's
the right size for this desk with the chairs and
totally needs won't fit. Natalia Roston now teaches second grade
in Los Angeles, but during Samantha's visit, she was a
Soviet kid raised in the city then called Lennon Grad

and a camper at Camp ar Tech. I think you
and I around the same age. What year were you born?
As was I teen? Sixteen nine one January? Oh yeah,
I sure you. My parents didn't go to Woodstock, There's
no way. Natalia was the daughter of an engineer and

an English teacher. She felt lucky to be at ar
Tech since it was the crown jewel of what we're
known as pioneer camps. I think boy Scout or Girl
Scout camp, but communist. Was it a pretty big deal
when you found out you were going to go, oh yeah,
It was pretty big guilt to me, and it was
pretty big guilt to my friends. We were all extatic
because it was it was like winning a lot of

I mean, it was a huge privilege. Natalia was not
from the elite. When I got to camp, I found
out that there was a group of kids from political
elite that were the year of the year of the year.
They treated Artech as a regular summer camp, but most
of us, we were from different backgrounds, from all over
the Union, and most of the campers that summer had

never even met in American They got the whole part
of our Artech camp together at an assembly and the said,
guess what, there's this girl whose personal guests of all
of you, of our premier and she's coming to visit
our tech and guess what, We're so lucky because she's
going to be guest in our camp, and what do
you think? And we were we were crazy. We started.

We started cleaning our door right away. We started like
ironing our uniforms right away. In Russia, when when any
guest comes, it's a big deal. When a foreign guest comes,
it's a triple big deal. And when the personal guest
of a premier comes. We were just through in seventh Heaven.
And the fact that she was American made it even more. Yeah,
it was a big deal because Russian propaganda was saying

this that American people are peace loving people, but the
government is brainwashing them to believe that we're the enemy.
And so we thought the cementy is gonna arrive and
she was gonna look at us like we were the enemy.
And so then your job, as it were, was just
to change your mind and to show who we really
really are, you know, our hospitality and how great the

country is. Because thirteen year rold In Natalia spoke more
English than anyone else, she would be Samantha's camp buddy
and deliver the welcome speech before thousands of campers. I
had to memorize this speech because my English wasn't fluent.
It was very Rudimentaria. Were you nervous when you delivered it?

I was petrified. My mouth was dry. I was yeah,
especially like you know, the camp counselors. They were young,
but they acted like Russian grandma's. They would like, spit
polished my forehead and make sure that everything is perfectly.
There was not. There was not a wrinkle. I wouldn't
They wouldn't let me sit some there would There wouldn't
be like a wrinkle in my shirt. My my ribbons
and my my braids were bigger than my head. I
mean it was. It was a huge deal because you

were essentially you were the lead of the welcome committee here. Well,
they told me that was the face of the country.
It was to be a simple welcoming ceremony for Samantha
at r Tech, a Sylvia youth camp. But oftentimes the
world's largest country does simple things and way. In this case,
two thousand uniformed young people and the Communist youth group

known as the Young Pioneers filled every seat of an
outdoor theater. It's the same clap and give their American
guests or warn hello. Now, at least Natalia spoke some English.
Remember Samantha spoke no Russian. But Natalia says that hardly mattered.
I remember They was so easy, Like it's like it's

if we knew each other the whole life. It was
so easy to kind of communicate, even though the language
abilities were very limited. Just smiling and trading things and um,
you know, sharing jokes and sharing our opinions about cafeteria food,
about the boys and out troop, about bathing suits, me
just fivorite. Everything was so easy. Although she would only

be staying for four days. Samantha asked to where the
Pioneer uniform. She was given the uniform with the blue
scarf for visitors instead of the red one worn by
Pioneer members. She also wanted to sleep in the cabin
with the other campers. Do you remember when the lights
went out? Were you quiet or was there giggling and

whispering and you know, tiptoeing around the room and our
camp counselor going if I have to walk in there
one more time? Are you're gonna have you know, actual
extra duties tomorrow? All of that happened you, Yes, I
would be disappointed if there had been no giggling. We
were so excited. Everybody was. She was excited. We were
excited me And what was she curious about? Everything. She

wanted to know what kind of music we were listening.
She wanted to know what kind of books we were reading.
She wanted to know what kind of sports were playing,
what kind of dances with dance, you know everything. She
wanted to do everything. Natalia played Italian pop music for
Samantha like Total Contunio, and Samantha played her favorite music

at the time for Natalia. I can remember the cars
were huge that summer. I'm guessing this was all on
cassette tape. Did you talk about politics? Was that sort
of understood or you just weren't interested. Once we saw her,
we understood that she doesn't think we want war and

she doesn't want war, So it was it was unnecessary.
It was just never came up because we felt that
it was not necessary to discuss. On Samantha's second day
at ar Tech, she and other campers wrote out into
the Black Sea to participate in an artech tradition. We
would write the message with our most sacred wish and

we would see it in this little glass bottle and
toss it overboard. So most kids would We wish for,
you know, end of starvation. We wish for health, We
wish for um bright future. You know things like that,
Samantha wrote on her card, I am for peace in
my lifetime. On the boat, they sang a favorite Soviet

children's song, May They're always be sanshine me They're always
be blue Sky. May They're always be Mommy. May They're
always be me? May there always be Sunshine is based
on a short poem, a Plea for Peace, by a

four year old Russian boy. The song has been performed
all over the world, translated into many languages. The kids
here and all the people here are really much like
Americans except for the language. And I didn't have any
trouble um making friends. Images of Samantha smiling and playing

in the Black Sea alongside her young pioneer comrades delighted
Soviet audiences, but left some viewers in her home country uneasy.
A CBS report pointed out activities at our tech Samantha
wasn't being shown. These young pioneers are out on a
different kind of extra size, learning to patrol the beaches

day and night, learning to handle the automatic weapons they carry.
As part of their summer session at the exclusive camp,
they are trained by a special section of the secret police,
the KGB border patrols, But for Samantha there will be
no night patrols on lonely beaches. Instead, a festival of
clowns and laughing bears at an evening concert where the

slogan is peace and friendship. On Samantha's final night at Artech,
a big Soviet send off. I shall my new international friends,
but we will remain friends. Prossy. Let our countries be
friends too. Satday, I hope to return. Samantha says she

has been very impressed by the Soviet Union. Although her
routine is tiring, the Soviets seemed to want to show
her everything they can in tightly packed days. There is
still no answer to her most important wish while in
the Soviet Union, a visit with Leader Urien drop off Of.
On her last full day in the Soviet Union, Samantha
got the news and drop Off was unable to meet her.

She said that he was sorry that he couldn't meet
with me, and he was just too busy, and he
wishes me um quote for no war and good health.
In fact, the Soviet leader was already dying from kidney failure.
There had been talking to Samantha, meeting and drop off.

In retrospect, you think it's good that that meeting didn't
work out. Does it really matter? It might have mattered
to the political elite, but what she wanted to accomplish,
I don't think it really matter whether she met a
or not. And what was the goodbye like when you
had to say goodbye to Samantha. Well, we thought that
she was going to come back, you know, we thought

that maybe in a few years they come and visit again.
It wasn't. It wasn't like a farewell goodbye was goodbye
for now, I see you later. When Samantha landed back
in Maine on July, more than three hundred people greeted
her at the airport. She walked down a red carpet
and wrote a limousine back home. On programs like The

Phil Donna Hugh Show, Samantha reflected on her peace mission
obviously one of the reasons you wrote this letter. As
she felt a little scared. I think, as you said,
be less scared. Yeah, really, I don't think I was
scared anymore at all. What do you mean? What? Oh?
I went to Russia and the Soviets and me and

I got to know each other, and they just joined
nice people tonight, or at least the people I met
on the other side of the break the conclusion of
Samantha's story, So kids are pretty much the same every

where you thinking, Unfortunately you didn't get to meet Uri Andropov,
did you know. Less than a week after returning from
her trip to the Soviet Union, Samantha Smith was back
on Johnny Carson. Samantha told Johnny about her new friend Natalia,
who back then went by the nickname Natasha. You can

think you're gonna keep in contact through letters within your fringe.
Min Oh, We're not nowhere close to being definite about this,
but I made a really close friend Natasha that we
might invite her to America sometimes. He that would be nice.
When it may have been Samantha's second time on the
Tonight Show, but she wasn't the least bit jaded in

both instances. There's something so just reassuringly, refreshingly normal, all right, yes,
and love. It is such a magical age. That's Lori
Labarre again from the State Museum. And I don't think
it would have been as successful if it had been
a teenager. And I think really that what we needed

was an eleven year old to do this? Why because
she was guileless? She was just what you saw is
what you got. She was a cheerful, happy, smart kid.
She wasn't a morose seventeen year old listening to the
Smith's love the Smith's mother. But any afterglow in this

country from Samantha's trip faded quickly. Just forty one days
after her return, a horrific international incident on September one,
the Soviet military shot down a Korean Airlines jetliner that
had drifted into Soviet air space while flying between Anchorage
and Soul. All two hundred sixty nine civilians, including a

US congressman, were killed. Whatever goodwill and drop off had
engendered in the way vanished. Some anger was directed at
the Smith's Samantha's father, Arthur, conveyed the family's horror at
the massacre, but defended the need for peaceful dialogue as
more important than ever. In December of Samantha and her

mother were invited to Japan to address an international children's symposium.
She wasn't in school as much anymore. That's childhood friend
Sarah Warren again. She was always off sort of doing
another events, which was undoubtedly even more educational than school.
I think that the education she was getting was pretty

profound for for a child. So um yeah, I mean
her life just completely transformed. Most people know me as
the girl who want to Russia, but now I'm going
to Washington. The Disney Channel hired Samantha to interview most
of that year's Democratic presidential candidates, including Jesse Jackson, George

McGovern and former Florida Governor Ruben Ask you, how do
you feel about inviting the Soviets over here to talk
about peace. I think that there's no reason that this
this country, and the Soviet Union can't get together and
start seeking at more commonality adventures. With all this exposure,
perhaps it was inevitable that Hollywood would come calling. Sarah

Warren remembers when Samantha began acting, appearing in an episode
of the CBS sitcom Charles in Charge, which we were
all very jealous about because we all had a crush
on Scott Bao at the time. Soon after, she was
casting Lime Street, a weekly action adventure series starring actor

Robert Wagner. I was very flattered that you asked me
to do this, And when it comes to Samantha Smith,
I'll do anything. I met Robert Wagen. I grew up
watching him on TV's Heart to Heart near his home
in Aspen, Colorado, inside the historic hotel Jerome, So tell
us a landmark. You know that I stayed here at nine,

Wagner says. The producers of Lime Street, Harry Thomason and
Linda Bloodworth. Thomason had first seen Samantha on Johnny Carson.
Linda had seen her and she thought she was, you know,
just so marvelous and had this great quality, and you know,
the camera just drank her in. I meant Samantha, I

could see exactly what they were talking about. In the series,
Samantha played Elizabeth Culver, the spunky daughter of a jet
setting insurance investigator played by Wagner. Yes, are you going
to Mary? Why not? Because I've already got enough press,

which get upstairs and take that with Some people felt
betrayed that the little diplomat had gone Hollywood. Her mother,
Jane told the press at the time that it wouldn't
be natural for Samantha to devote her life to Soviet
American relations, after all, she was a kid. Jessica Dwyer

remembers when Samantha had just gotten her braces off right
before she left for London, where Lime Street was shooting.
She was in the midst of packing and getting things together,
and sam was just making peace suit at the stove,
something that was soft and wasn't going to hurt her.

She just a typical teenager. Is that the last time
that you saw her? That was the last time that
we saw it. She left the next day. In August,
Samantha finished filming her fourth episode of Lime Street. On

she and her father Arthur, flew home. Their commuter plane
from Boston was on its final approach to Auburn Lewiston,
Maine Airport when it crashed just two hundred yards from
the airport's runway. All eight people on board perished. This morning,
thirteen year old Samantha Smith is dead, the victim of

a plane crash last night in her native Maine. Just recently,
she began work on a new ABC TV series with
actor Robert Wagner. You know, Samantha maids such an impression
upon people of wand to be taken like that, who
was unbelievable to us, unbelievable, unbelievable to young Jessica Dwyer

in Maine. It took me a long time to accept it.
Um and I'll share this. I haven't shared it with
very many people. I always thought that she and her
dad escaped the plane and we're in a and that
she and her dad were living this great life. And
I think that was just my way of keeping her

memory alive. The news was barely comprehensible to young Natalia.
In Leningrad. There was a beautiful a social author who
said that chazz Ear does not comprehend the word death.
I mean, I knew she died, but I really didn't
process the loss. Hundreds of mourners gathered today and Augusta, Maine,

at a memorial service for Samantha Smith, the schoolgirl whose
plea for peace made her internationally famous. Well, it was
difficult to even get into the church because there were
so many people there. I just remember being really sad
for Jane because she lost her family. The first Secretary

to the Soviet Embassy in Washington was among the mourners
and described Samantha in his eulogy as a brilliant beam
of sunshine that millions old mothers and fathers and kids
back in the Russian in the Soviet Union share the
being of this tragic loss. President Reagan, who had avoided

mentioning Samantha in public, sent condolences to Samantha's mother, Jane
in Maine, writing that millions of Americans would remember Samantha's smile,
her idealism, and her quote unaffected sweetness of spirit. Samantha
Smith's pioneer uniform, the one she wore at Artech, is

still at the Main State Museum with Lorie Labar. When
I first walked in and saw it, I gasped. The uniform.
It's just so small, just eleven year old girl. It's
a reminder just this was a small girl. This was
a little kid. Um, this wasn't an adult. This was
just someone who had asked a question. Samantha's death at

such an unnaturally young age effectively froze her legacy as
that of a child's peace activist. Here's Sarah Warren again.
As tragic and awful as it was that she died,
it really did draw more attention to her trip and
to what she had done. And many of us then

found a way to make meaning somehow of her life
and her passing by trying to carry forward what she
had started. All right, So what impact did Samantha's improbable
life as a child diplomat make well for starters. Jane
Smith established the nonprofit Samantha Smith Foundation to promote international

understanding through youth exchange trips. One year after Samantha's death,
Sarah Warren, along with Jane Smith, and a group of
classmates from Maine, made their own trip to the Soviet Union.
Well essentially, we were following on the same footsteps of
Samantha and her parents, the same trip that they had done.
They started to understand what their friend had meant to

the rest of the world. Although she had been getting
a lot of media coverage in the US, she was
just downright famous in the Soviet Union. Everybody there knew
who she was. Jessica Dwyer went on that trip too.
Mobs of people just wanted to be near us and
around us. Everywhere we went. We were just greeted by

so many people that wanted to talk to us, touch
us because we knew Samantha. Samantha was memorialized in Maine.
A statue of her holding a dub stands outside the
main State Museum in Augusta, But in the Soviet Union,
Samantha's face appeared on a postage stamp, on murals, her

name graced schools, street, a flower, a ship, a diamond,
and asteroid. Even a mountain was named in her honor.
Samantha Smith. Even now she is more popular than she
is here. Why do you think that is? Because maybe
for us she was a symbol of hope that the
relationship could be of friendship between the two countries. And

that gets it perhaps her greatest and most ironic legacy.
By inviting Samantha to the Soviet Union, Urie and drop
Off was hoping to improve the image of his regime
in America, but the opposite kind of happened. American University
professor Anton Fetiyashin, who grew up in the Soviet Union,

put it this way. Quote The fact that Samantha Smith
is still remembered in Russia but is mostly forgotten in
the US is testament that and drop offs original idea
of projecting an image to the world was reversed by
Samantha projecting herself much more successfully on a Soviet society.
In other words, Samantha wasn't anyone's dupe. By the way,

the Soviets ended up exporting their own version of Samantha
In ninety six, fifteen year old Katya Licheba visited the
US on a peace mission. Katia actually met Reagan briefly,
but the Soviet Samantha didn't have the original Samantha's curiosity
or charisma and quickly fizzled in The Samantha Smith Foundation

inaugurated its own World Peace Camp in Poland Spring Maine.
Two years later, Natalia Rostin visited the camp. Was that
your first trip to the United States was first trip abroad?
And what did you think of Maine when you saw it? Beautiful?
It the nature kind of reminded me a little bit

of Russia, but not quite like Russia. Lots of like
the citious trees, you know, the greenery view doful, like
rolling hills. Is there anything you ate there that you've
never eaten before? Lobster. More than thirty years later, as
a second grade teacher, Natalia includes Samantha in her curriculum.

We learned the story and I always tied into writing.
I tell you know, writing is your superpower. You know
you want to change the world, you need to learn
how to write. Look at Samantha, you know she made
a huge impact because she was write. She knew she
knew what she wanted to say, and she says she
stay did it clearly. And how did the kids react
to the story of Semanthea inspired? They get inspired, They

get inspired by that. You know, the kids have have
power working on this mobid. I've thought about all that
Samantha didn't live to see. Just three months after she died,
President Reagan and then Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev met for
the first time to discuss nuclear disarmament. Just six years later,

the Soviet Union dissolved. I also wondered what Samantha would
be doing today. When I spoke to her childhood friend
Sarah Warren back in July, it was just a few
days past Samantha's birthday. Samantha would have turned fifty on June.
And it's sorry, it's pretty profound to think about what

she did all those years ago. And I don't know.
I try not to think about her too much as
an adult because I think she did what she needed
to as a kid. But um, and we want a legacy,
you know. I'm sure had she lived to be fifty,
she would have been beautiful and she would have been
doing lots of amazing things in the world. But in her,

you know, short thirteen years, she did more than a
lot of people do in fifty. So Samantha's life was short,
But the questions she asked in that handwritten letter all
those years ago, her plea for peace are no less
powerful today. I hope you enjoyed this Mobituary. May I

ask you to please rate and review our podcast. You
can also follow Mobituaries on Facebook and Instagram, and you
can follow me on Twitter at Morocca. Here all new
episodes of Mobituaries every Wednesday wherever you get your podcasts
and check out Mobituaries Great Lives Worth Reliving, the New
York Times best selling book now available in paperback and

audio book that includes plenty of stories not in this podcast.
This episode of Mobituaries was produced by Aaron Shrank. Our
team of producers also includes Wilco, Martinez Caccetro, and Me Morocca.
It was edited by Moral Walls and engineered by Josh Hahn,
with fat checking by Catherine Newhan. Our production company is

Neon Houm Media. Our chival producer doing his home state
of Maine proud is Jamie Benson. Our theme music is
written by Daniel Hart. Indispensable support from Craig Swaggler, Dustin Gervei,
Alan Pang, Reggie Basil, and everyone at CBS News Radio.
Special thanks to Lena Nelson, Mary lou Till, Megan Marcus,

Barbara Quill for her reporting on Samantha's trip, and Alberto Robina,
and our deepest appreciation to Jane Smith, the Imperturbable Aaron
Shrank as our senior producer. Executive producers for Mobituaries include
Steve raise E's and Morocca. The series is created by
yours truly and as always, thanks to Rand Morrison and

John carp for helping breathe life into Mobituaries. M
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