September 24, 2006

Above And Beyond The Call: SFC Paul R. Smith

Today the MOB is paying our respects to the memory of Sergeant First Class Paul R. Smith - the first Congressional Medal of Honor winner in the War on Terror. Today would have been Sergeant Smith's birthday.

In the movie The Caine Mutiny, Jose Ferrer plays Lt. Barney Greenwald, a JAG lawyer engaged to defend a group of Ivy Leaguers-turned-naval officers at the court-martial over the eponymous mutiny.

Greenwald wins the case - but gives the gents a piece of his mind:

When I was studying law, and Mr. Keefer here was writing his stories, and you, Willie, were tearing up the playing fields of dear old Princeton, who was standing guard over this fat, dumb, happy country of ours, eh? Not us. Oh, no! We knew you couldn't make any money in the service. So who did the dirty work for us? Queeg did!
I thought about that when I read this excellent piece on Smith in the St. Petersburg Times:
To his men, Smith was like a character in the old war movies they had watched as kids, an infuriating, by-the-book taskmaster they called the "Morale Nazi."...Smith earned his sergeant's stripes and became a stern teacher determined to prepare his men for war - something he had seen and they hadn't.

The men did not appreciate his methods.

They didn't like Smith's reaction the day he discovered a soldier had not packed correctly for a training mission. Smith made the entire platoon unpack and start again.

They thought Smith went too far when, during an inspection, he found a screw missing from a soldier's helmet. Smith called the platoon back for reinspection. It lasted until nearly 10 p.m.

"If you f--d up, everybody f--d up," said Cpl. Daniel Medrano. "Teamwork was everything to him."

Smith was obsessed with keeping weapons spotless - "freaking crazy about it," according to Medrano. Smith would push a Q-tip into rifle barrels, looking for dirt.

Not the kind of guy most of us could relate to, right?

Not the kind of guy Paris Hilton will bat her eyes at. Not the kind of guy that a lot of Americans appreciate having to deal with, maybe...

In Kosovo in 2001, Medrano and others urged Smith to lighten up.

Smith snapped at them: "What are you going to do when the enemy is in front of you and your weapon isn't clean? The reason for all this is I've been to a place where it matters."

"We would joke that we're going to go to war, and then we can say we've been in a place where it matters," Medrano, 27, recalled..."He would come home and say, "They hate me. I know they are talking about me,"' Birgit said. "But Paul knew sooner or later they would understand why he was tough on them."

...but the kind of guy I'd like my son to have for a Platoon Sergeant if he ever joins the serivce.

He won the Medal of Honor posthumously for holding off an Iraqi attack that threatened to overwhelm a nearby aid station, among other units. In the fog of war, Smiths's platoon of combat engineers was left alone. Sgt. Smith responded:

Smith climbed into the gunner's hatch. He stood behind the big machine gun, the upper half of his body exposed, the lower half protected by the armored vehicle. He started blasting away.

"Keep me loaded," he shouted to Seaman. Whenever the 100-round ammunition belt that fed the machine gun was about to run out, Seaman reached down for another.

Whenever Smith stopped firing so Seaman could reload, fire from the Iraqis would pick up.

From the hole in the wall, Sgt. Keller could see Smith and waved for him to get out of the courtyard. Word had it that Bradleys were on their way.

Smith motioned back: "No."

"I knew why he wouldn't leave," Keller said. Without Smith's machine gun, "there was no firepower out there."

Keller took off running in search of the Bradley. He came across one up on the road, about 100 yards away, and confronted the men inside. "What are you doing? You need to be out there," Keller said.

The response from one of the Bradley crewmen - something like, "No, there's friendlies out there" - confused Keller.

He ran back to the courtyard, to a scene right out of Hollywood.

Smith was atop the 113 shooting toward the gate, over the wall, at the tower.

"He was firing, firing, firing - reloading - firing, firing, firing," said Sgt. Robert Nowack, 37. "It was like a director saying, "I want you to look intense."'

The sight reminded Pfc. Pace of To Hell and Back, the film about the WWII exploits of Army 2nd Lt. Audie Murphy, who climbed onto a burning tank, manned a .50-caliber machine gun and mowed down dozens of attacking Germans.

Murphy was awarded the Medal of Honor in 1945.

Smith left behind a wife, a son and a stepdaughter, and a story that needs to be remembered when odds are long and the situation is dire.

America is lucky to have had S1C Smith - even if much of the nation doesn't know it.

Other stories about S1C Smith today from Ed, Andy, Brian from The Attic, and of course Derek from Freedom Dogs, who organized this observance.

UPDATE: MN Ed Reform and Swiftee - who, if memory serves, is a Navy vet himself.

Posted by Mitch at September 24, 2006 06:50 AM | TrackBack

Thanks, Mitch.

Posted by: Kermit at September 24, 2006 09:13 AM

The Sargeant sounds like a good man. War is Hell. But, to achieve our ends, lives must be lost.

If we succeed in Iraq, it will go a long way toward obtaining a lasting peace in the Middle East. I don't believe any soldier's death has been in vain.


Posted by: TruthProbe at September 24, 2006 04:37 PM

Thank you and God bless you, Sergeant Smith.

“Do not seek death. Death will find you. But seek the road which makes death a fulfillment.” --Dag Hammarskjold

“Your position never gives you the right to command.
It only imposes on you the duty of so living your life that others can receive your orders without being humiliated.” --Dag Hammarskjold

(from: Dag Hammarskjold quotes - )

Posted by: RBMN at September 24, 2006 09:56 PM

Thanks for posting this.

It's good to put aside our partisan political differences and pay honor to Sgt Smith and others like him who have put themselves in harm's way.

May God look over Sgt Smith's family.

Posted by: Rick Mons at September 25, 2006 12:09 AM

Thank you for sharing Sgt. Smith's story, Mitch.

I just saw the stage version, "The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial," here in New York a few months ago. David Schwimmer did a surprisingly good job as Greenwald; the guy's actually got some real stage chops.

Posted by: Beeeej at September 25, 2006 03:41 PM
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