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Friday, June 24, 2016 Serving Maine and Lincoln County for over a century. Volume 141 Issue 25

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5/22/2013 2:00:00 PM
Bristol Man Nominated For Medal Of Honor
Staff Sergeant Don Smith poses in front of the Quilt of Valors, with his wife, Jean.
Staff Sergeant Don Smith poses in front of the Quilt of Valors, with his wife, Jean.
By LCN Staff


Bristol resident, Donald Smith is in line for the most prestigious honor given to an enlisted man by the United States of America. His heroism in the Vietnam War has brought him to the attention of Maine Congressman Mike K. Michaud.

Born in Mississippi, Donald "Smitty" Smith enlisted in the Army in 1950 at the age of 18. Over the course of a 20-year military career, he served two tours of duty in the Korean War, two tours of duty in Vietnam and served with occupying forces in Japan.

Smith had a love of aviation that he put to use as a member of the Combat Engineers. He learned to fly privately before he enlisted.

In Korea, he survived a mortar attack. "Less than 25 feet from me," he said. "Men were killed. I got knocked tail over tea kettle by the blast and walked away with some scrapes."

In 1967, Smith was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his actions in the Battle for Tuy Hoa, in Vietnam, in June 1966.

Smith was gun platoon leader and crew chief on an armed helicopter called in to help rescue an infantry company that had been pinned down for over two days near the airbase of Tuy Hoa.

An immediate extraction was necessary. The flight was airborne within minutes. Over the combat zone, it was learned that there was no pick up area large enough even for a single helicopter to land.

"It was decided to attempt the extraction even though the landing zone preparation was not complete," Smith said.

The pickup was made from an extremely confined one aircraft-landing zone with aircraft separation of only 20 to 30 seconds.

Smith, as gun platoon leader, provided cover and supportive fire for the hard pushed and desperate ground elements.

The armed helicopters repeatedly struck the areas around the team's position with rockets, 40-mm grenades, and machine gun fire until the enemy pursuit was broken.

His citation reads in part: "For heroism evidenced by voluntary actions above and beyond the call of duty in the Republic of Vietnam: Specialist Five Smith distinguished himself by exceptionally valorous actions on 19 June 1966."

The description of Smith's heroism continues in the citation. "Completely disregarding his own safety while receiving intense hostile fire, he pinpointed the most active enemy emplacements and sprayed them with devastating fire. Although his aircraft received numerous hits, Specialist Smith never wavered at his gun position.

"His fearless and accurate gunnery accounted for 42 insurgents killed on the hills around the ground unit. He struck the Vietcong with such a disruptive effect that the infantry company was able to move from its position for the first time in two days."

Smith's actions on that June day in 1966 may earn him even more recognition. Presently, a request to grant Smith the highest military honor granted in the United States, the Congressional Medal of Honor, is under consideration.

The request, put forward by Congressman Mike Michaud, is in recognition of Smith's extraordinary heroism and selfless courage on behalf of his Army compatriots.

"It is a long process and we have no influence on the outcome," said a Michaud staffer in a phone conversation last Thursday. "There is certainly documentation to support this award. The final decision is, of course, not ours."

The Congressional Medal of Honor is rarely granted. Since the decoration's creation in 1861, slightly more than 3400 Medals of Honor have been award to America's bravest soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines and coast guardsmen.

Only 246 Medals of Honor have been granted to Vietnam veterans. Seven medals have been awarded for service in Afghanistan and four for service in Iraq, all of the latter posthumously.

Just 13 Mainers have received the honor since the Civil War; all but one posthumously.

The recommendation for a person to receive this award starts a process which is long and complicated. The need for accuracy demands intense scrutiny every step of the way.

In Smith's case, Congressman Michaud submits the request, which then will pass to the Merit Review, to the Senior Army Decorations Board, on up to the Army Chief of Staff, Secretary of the Army, Secretary of Defense and finally, to the President of the United States.

At any step, a recommendation may be downgraded or denied. "This is in no way indicative of a lack of true heroism," said Jacob Muller, Army liaison, "It is an arduous process and takes no less than two years."

During his career, Smith earned the Distinguished Flying Cross, 15 Air Medals, Distinguished Service Medal, Republic of Vietnam Gallantry Cross, Korea Service Medal with six Battle Stars, Korean Presidential Unit Citation, U.S. Presidential Unit Citation, Republic of Vietnam Presidential Citation, Vietnam Service Medal, Japanese Occupation Medal, Good Conduct Medal and Senior Crew Chief Wings.

Smith left his military service with the rank of Staff Sergeant E-6 in 1970. In the years since he has been an active member of the VFW and spokesman.

Married to Jean, they live in Bristol where Smith acts as "Granddad-in-Chief" to the local Boy Scouts. He has four daughters, five stepsons, and a multitude of grandchildren and great-grandchildren.



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