President Presents First Medal of Honor for Terror War Gallantry
By Terri Lukach
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Apr. 4, 2005 Two years to the day after his father died saving more than 100 fellow soldiers in the battle for Baghdad's airport, the young son of an Army noncommissioned officer accepted his father's Medal of Honor from President Bush at a White House ceremony today.
The president presented the nation's highest award for combat gallantry to 11-year-old David Anthony Smith, son of Army Sgt. 1st Class Paul R. Smith. Alongside the president and the boy were Smith's widow, Birgit, and the couple's 18-year-old daughter, Jessica.
This is the first time the Medal of Honor has been awarded for action in Operation Iraqi Freedom and the global war on terror.
Smith was part of the 3rd Infantry Division's buildup for Operation Iraqi Freedom, and among the first wave of soldiers that crossed the Kuwait border into Iraq on March 19, 2003, the first day of the war. He died saving the lives of at least 100 soldiers who were badly outnumbered by enemy forces.
In presenting the award, Bush described Smith as "a soldier whose service illustrates the highest ideals of leadership and love of our country."
Bush recalled Smith's early life and career in the Army and described the battle that took his life.
Smith's mission, as the 3rd Infantry Division moved in to seize what is now known as Baghdad International Airport, was to build a holding area for enemy prisoners of war. "Sergeant Smith was leading about three dozen men," Bush said, "when they were surprised by about 100 of Saddam Hussein's Republican Guard.
"With complete disregard for his own life, and under constant enemy fire, Sergeant Smith rallied his men and led a counterattack. Seeing that his wounded men were in danger of being overrun, ... Sergeant Smith manned a .50-caliber machine gun atop a damaged armored vehicle.
"From a completely exposed position, he killed as many as 50 enemy soldiers as he protected his men." Bush said. "Sergeant Smith's leadership saved the men in the courtyard, and he prevented an enemy attack on the aid station just up the road."
Bush said Smith continued to fire until he "took a fatal round to the head. His actions in that courtyard saved the lives of more than 100 American soldiers." Soldiers who served with Smith described him as a stern disciplinarian who demanded much of the men under his command, Bush said. Yet Smith also demonstrated incredible concern, going out of his way to make life easier for his soldiers and their families, he added.
In a letter he wrote to his parents from Iraq, but never mailed, Bush said, the sergeant called it a "privilege to be given 25 of the finest Americans we call soldiers to lead into war." Smith said he was prepared to give "all that I am to ensure that my boys make it home."
In addition to being the global war on terror's first Medal of Honor recipient, Smith is the first to earn a Medal of Honor flag, authorized by Congress in 2002.
"We count ourselves blessed to have soldiers like Sergeant Smith, who put their lives on the line to advance the cause of freedom and protect the American people," the president said. "Like every one of the men and women in uniform who have served in Operation Iraqi Freedom, Sergeant Paul Smith was a volunteer.
"We thank his family for the father, husband and son and brother who can never be replaced," Bush continued. "We recall with appreciation the fellow soldiers whose lives he saved and the many more he inspired. And we express our gratitude for a new generation of Americans every bit as selfless and dedicated to liberty as any that has gone on before, a dedication exemplified by the sacrifice and valor of Sergeant 1st Class Paul Ray Smith."
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, Joint Chiefs Chairman Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, Joint Chiefs Vice Chairman Marine Gen. Peter Pace, Army Secretary Francis Harvey and Army Chief of Staff Gen. Pete Schoomaker were on hand at the White House for the ceremony. Also present were soldiers from the Army's 3rd Infantry Division, Smith's unit in Iraq.
Ceremonies in Smith's honor are planned April 5 at the Pentagon's Hall of Heroes and at Arlington National Cemetery.