Medal of Honor Awardee Smith Inducted Into Hall of Heroes
By Terri Lukach
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, April 5, 2005 A modern hero today joined an elite group of warriors -- Medal of Honor recipients whose valor, sacrifice and selfless service to the nation are immortalized in the Pentagon's Hall of Heroes.
Army Sgt. 1st Class Paul R. Smith was posthumously inducted into the Pentagon Hall of Heroes at a ceremony April 5. President Bush awarded the Medal of Honor to Smith's family in White House ceremonies April 4. Smith is the first to receive the military's highest award for his actions in the war on terror. Photo by Helene C. Stikkel
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Army Sgt. 1st Class Paul Ray Smith was posthumously awarded a Medal of Honor in a White House ceremony April 4. Today the Defense Department recognized that honor in a separate ceremony.
"Paul R. Smith now belongs to that singular pantheon of brave patriots who fought for something even more sacred than their own lives," Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said at today's event. "Our history is truly blessed with such heroes."
"We stand in awe of the heroism described in his citation. ... Standing here today, one need not look far to understand what motivated his bravery," Rumsfeld said at the gathering, which included Smith's widow and two children, his parents, and other family members.
"We see it in the shared pride and grief of those he loved," he said, "in his children, David and Jessica, who daily brought him joy; in his wife, Birgit, whom Paul, in his final words, compared to the brightest star in the sky; and in his family, who saw the boy from Tampa (Fla.) become the man who crossed deserts to topple a tyrant and defend our nation."
Smith was part of the 3rd Infantry Division's buildup for Operation Iraqi Freedom. He died in the battle for Baghdad's airport on April 4, 2003 - two years to the day before President Bush awarded his medal of honor.
According to the medal citation, Smith fired on advancing enemy soldiers from an unprotected position atop an armored personnel carrier, expending "at least three boxes of ammunition before being mortally wounded by enemy fire.
"The enemy attack was defeated," the citation said. Smith's actions "saved the lives of at least 100 soldiers, caused the failure of a deliberate enemy attack, ... and resulted in an estimated 20-50 enemy soldiers killed."
During today's ceremony, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Peter J. Schoomaker said Smith's valor places him among the ranks of the nation's most courageous warriors. He congratulated Smith's family "on the great honor our country and our commander in chief have bestowed on your soldier."
"All Americans stand taller today with pride and gratitude as they recognize Sergeant 1st Class Smith for his heroic actions in Iraq," Schoomaker said. He also thanked the Smith family for their own "years of service and great sacrifice as an Army family."
Army Secretary Francis Harvey told the family, "We mourn your loss and celebrate with you the life of a truly extraordinary man."
Harvey said Smith "lived the Army values and was the embodiment of the warrior ethos. Paul Smith always placed the mission first. He never accepted defeat; he never quit; and he never left a fallen comrade.
Harvey said many other soldiers are alive today thanks to Smith's leadership and sacrifice. "The nation and free peoples around the world sleep better tonight because of the willingness of soldiers like Paul Smith to sacrifice everything so that others might live in peace and freedom," the Army secretary said.
Smith "left his family and his country a life of great meaning and entrusted us with his faith in America and its mission," Rumsfeld said. "For that faith, he laid down his life. For that sacrifice, we are forever in his debt. And in his name, we are called upon to ensure that his trust was well-placed and made to endure."
Following remarks by DoD officials, Smith's widow, Birgit, told the assembly how proud she was to receive the Medal of Honor on behalf of her husband.
"Paul loved his country, he loved the Army, and he loved his soldiers. He loved being a sapper (Army engineer). He died doing what he loved," she said.
She thanked the Army for giving her husband the opportunity "to fulfill his dream of serving his country." She said she and her family "continue to be overwhelmed by the American people's appreciation of his service."
A native of Germany, Birgit Smith recalled how American soldiers liberated her country from tyranny 60 years ago in World War II. "Today another generation of American soldiers has given the Iraqi and the Afghan people a new birth of freedom," she said.
"This is an ideal that Paul truly believed in," she said, adding, "I'm sure Paul would be proud to know that I have begun the process of becoming an American citizen."
Addressing Smith's 3rd Infantry Division comrades, Birgit encouraged them to tell their stories so "the American people and the world will better understand the sacrifice of Paul and others like him."
She ended her remarks with the universal Army cry of "Hooah!'"
Later in the day another ceremony, to unveil the fallen soldier's headstone, was conducted at nearby Arlington National Cemetery.