Milledgeville, GA – In my time as your Representative in Congress, I’ve had the opportunity to meet and honor incredible veterans and hear their extraordinary stories. In an effort to preserve the legacy of those who have faithfully served our country, I want to share the account of William Smith of Sandersville, Georgia, an Army veteran who served in Vietnam from 1968 to 1974.
Through the Veterans History Project, an initiative of the Library of Congress, a member of my staff sat down with Mr. Smith in July, when he described wartime stresses and “the weeks in the jungle with mosquitoes, ants, and leeches.” He first enlisted right out of school at the age of 18 and trained at Fort Benning in Columbus, where he learned “how to kill and how to survive,” as well as how to be “an American soldier.” As part of the 2nd Battalion 27th Infantry Wolfhounds Unit, he rose in rank to become a squad leader for Company D and established a reputation as a dedicated, energetic, and expert servicemember.
During an ambush, which Smith described as “just one night in hell” and “the closest [he] came to being killed, while also losing friends,” he took a direct hit from a rocket-propelled grenade (RPG). To this day, Smith is haunted by this memory and the carnage that surrounded him in Vietnam when “the enemy used a bangalore torpedo to take out the east-end perimeter.” He vividly recalled “the smell of death.”
Mr. Smith withstood his injuries and later became Commander after his Company leader died in his arms at the age of 20. The simple reality is that our veterans and servicemembers endure adverse conditions and life-threatening missions in order to preserve and protect our Nation. Having heroes, like Mr. Smith, in the 10th District is humbling, and I can never thank our veterans enough for their role in keeping America safe and secure.
For his remarkable service, Mr. Smith earned the Combat Infantryman Badge, the Vietnam Service Medal with four Bronze Service Stars, the Republic of Vietnam Gallantry Cross, the Bronze Star Medal, the National Defense Service Medal, and the Marksmanship Medal, among others. But when asked about the recognition, Smith modestly replied, “They could’ve kept these medals. I was just caught up in a time where I had to do what I did to survive and save my brothers.”
Our veterans epitomize the greatness of America, and we have a sacred responsibility to serve and care for them as they did for our country. We once again, on this Veterans Day, express our deepest gratitude. As President Wilson proclaimed, today is a “day to be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service, with gratitude for the victory.”