Navy-Marine Corps MARS in Vietnam

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Duty honored

Sunday, February 19, 2006
Author: ERIC LIDJI - Waxahachie Daily Light

There is a silver star over Waxahachie.

On Friday, the U.S. Marine Corps presented Ellis County native Eric Michael Smith with the prestigious Silver Star.

U.S. Rep. Joe Barton, state Rep. Jim Pitts, Mayor Jay Barksdale and almost 50 family members — including his great-grandfather, who served in World War II — gathered in the Waxahachie Civic Center to watch the presentation. The presentation took place in a room facing the Ellis County Veteran’s Memorial.

Brig. Gen. Darrell L. Moore, Smith’s commanding officer, based in Kansas City, Mo., presented Smith with the medal. It was the first time Moore has presented the Silver Star to a Marine.

“Eric earned every bit of it,” Moore said. “He earned it the old fashioned way.”

The Silver Star is the third highest medal awarded to members of the armed forces, behind the Congressional Medal of Honor and the Distinguished Cross for each branch of service.

Smith received the honor for his actions on April 6, 2004, while he was stationed with the Marine Corps in Iraq. Smith’s platoon was ordered to reinforce a platoon already under attack, but was ambushed on the way.

The platoon commander was critically wounded, and so Smith assumed command under heavy machine gun and rocket-propelled grenade fire. He led the platoon across more than 50 yards of open ground to a covered position.

Then, Smith ran back across the field, subjecting himself to open fire, to evacuate the platoon commander and his weapons. Using machine guns from the platoon truck, Smith led a counterattack against the insurgent forces to free the isolated squad.

Upon arrival, Smith facilitated an evacuation for the casualties and created a withdrawal plan to get all units back to the command post.

“It’s important to remember publicly people like Eric for what he accomplished,” Moore said.

After the incident, on Aug. 2, 2004, Smith was promoted to sergeant.

“You don’t come back from Iraq without a million and one nightmares and remembrances,” Smith said.

The presentation brought out mixed emotions. He said he felt honored, and that his family was very proud, but at the same time, the Marines don’t give awards for “a good event.” Smith’s platoon commander died from his injuries in the incident.

“You don’t forget what it looks like to see your friend killed,” Smith said. “He was my platoon commander, but damn it, he was my friend.”

Barksdale pulled his daughter from school for the morning to witness the presentation.

“I’m not sure when something like this will happen again in Waxahachie,” Barksdale said.

Barksdale read a proclamation from the City Council naming Feb. 17, 2006, “Sgt. Eric M. Smith Day.”

Pitts presented Smith with a Texas flag, and Barton announced that his office will create a scholarship to help Smith pay for two years of college.

“You just tell me what you need and we’ll pay for it,” Barton said.

The medal is a one and half inch, five-pointed, gold star with a small silver star embedded in the center. A gold wreath representing valor surrounds the silver star. On the back of the medal is inscribed, “For gallantry in action.” The ribbon has alternate blue and white stripes with a red stripe in the center.

Woodrow Wilson established the silver citation star that became the basis for the Silver Star on Jan. 12, 1919. The medal, as it is known today, was created in 1932 and extended to the Navy and Marine Corps on Aug. 7, 1942.

Gen. Douglas MacArthur received the first Silver Star. Other well-known recipients are former President Lyndon Johnson, Sens. John McCain and John Kerry, and Gen. George Patton.

Since Sept. 11, 2001, the Marine Corps has only awarded 52 Silver Stars.

Smith graduated from Waxahachie High School in 2001 and enlisted in May, before the terrorist attacks.

“There wasn’t a national call for service, yet,” Moore said. “Eric had decided this was the path he wanted.”

On Feb. 1, 2002, he was promoted to lance corporal. After boot camp but before deployment, Smith married his high school girlfriend, Shelly.

“I love her so much,” Smith said. “I wasn’t ready to give her up.”

The Smith’s 3-week old baby was at the presentation. The Smiths have been living in Arlington, but are moving back to Waxahachie in the coming months. Smith is an appraiser with the Ellis Central Appraisal District.

“I didn’t know I was going to get a day,” Smith said after hearing his citation and receiving the medal. “I just want to make sure that everyone knows that there are many young men — 19, 20, 21 — who are doing this on a daily basis. I want everyone here to remember every day. That day wasn’t just me. It was everybody. They’ll keep doing it until they’re done. Then they’ll come home.”

Smith, 23, completed his four years of active duty but is still a member of the Individual Ready Reserve. He said the war still lingers with him and makes him cautious, but the thought of the amenities and privileges he has here will always make him feel responsible for returning if asked.

“It wouldn’t take me 10 minutes to pack my bag,” Smith said.

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