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Pentagon Ceremony to Add Sgt. First Class Paul Smith, Medal of Honor Recipient, to the Hall of Hero

Presenters: Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld, Secretary of the Army Francis Harvey, and Army Chief of Staff General Peter A. Schoomaker
April 05, 2005 11:10 AM EDT
Pentagon Ceremony to Add Sgt. First Class Paul Smith, Medal of Honor Recipient, to the Hall of Heroes

            GEN. SCHOOMAKER:  Mr. Secretary and Mrs. Rumsfeld, Secretary Harvey, fellow flag officers, general officers and especially to the family of Sergeant First Class Paul Smith.  Birgit, welcome.  Jessica, David, Mrs. Janice Pvirre, the mother; Mr. Donald Pvirre; Lisa, Anthony and other members of the family who are here.  Distinguished guests.  And especially some members of the 3rd Infantry Division, who served with Sergeant First Class Smith in the 3rd Infantry Division in OIF -- Sergeant Burwald, Specialist Seaman and Specialist Malay.

 

            Yesterday the nation watched as the president presented Birgit, Jessica and David with our country's highest award for valor – the Medal of Honor -- which he earned two years ago to the day – which was earned two years ago to the day by their soldier, Sergeant First Class Paul Smith.  Today, we assemble in another special place, where we will memorialize Sergeant First Class Smith by placing him in a formation with ranks filled by our nation's most courageous here in the Hall of Heroes. 

 

            As I had the honor of serving with and knowing intimately the last two soldiers who joined this special formation, I am certain that they are very proud to welcome our newest hero, because they are brothers.

 

            To the Smith family, congratulations on a great honor that our country and our commander-in-chief has bestowed on your soldier.  A grateful nation thanks you for your own years of service and great sacrifice as an Army family. 

 

            All Americans stand taller today with pride and gratitude as they recognize Sergeant First Class Paul Smith for his heroic actions in Iraq.  He truly lived and epitomized our warrior ethos.

 

            Now it is my distinct privilege to introduce the Honorable Dr. Francis Harvey, our 19th secretary of the Army. 

 

            Mr. Secretary?

 

            SEC. HARVEY:  Secretary and Mrs. Rumsfeld, Acting Secretary Domingos (sp), General Schoomaker, General Sullivan, Major Rascon, Colonel Barnum. 

 

            Two years ago yesterday, Sergeant First Class Paul Ray Smith performed an extraordinary act of valor under extremely dangerous circumstances.  We are gathered here today to commemorate his award of the Medal of Honor, to remember his sacrifice, and most of all, to remember who he was as a man. 

 

            Paul Smith was a husband, father, son and brother.  He lived to defend those he cared about.  And we are honored to have with us today his wife, Birgit; their children, Jessica, David; Sergeant Smith's mother, Janice; stepfather Donald; his brother Anthony and his sister Lisa, and several other members and friends of the Smith family. 

 

            I speak for the entire Army when I say we mourn your loss and we celebrate with you the life of this truly extraordinary man. 

 

            Sergeant First Class Smith was a soldier, a member of the United States 3rd Infantry Division -- Audie Murphy's old outfit.  He lived the Army values and he 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.  Because of his leadership and personal sacrifice, many soldiers are alive today.  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.

 

            As you know, the Medal of Honor is the nation's highest medal for valor in combat.  It is awarded sparingly, and is only bestowed to the bravest of the brave.  In fact, so few Medals of Honor are awarded that the only ones that have been awarded for action since the Vietnam War were bestowed to Army Master Sergeant Gary Gordon and Army Sergeant First Class Randall Shughart for valor in Somalia in 1993, and now to Sergeant First Class Smith for valor in Iraq.

 

            Today, our keynote speaker is the Secretary of Defense, the Honorable Donald H. Rumsfeld.  As many of you know, Secretary Rumsfeld has the distinction of being both the 13th and 21st secretaries of Defense.  He's also a former fighter pilot in the Navy Reserves.  We are truly honored to have him participate in today's ceremony recognizing Sergeant First Class Smith.

 

            Mr. Secretary.

 

            SEC. RUMSFELD:  Good morning.  Thank you very much, Secretary Harvey  and Pete Schoomaker.  DOD officials, members of the Smith and Perlman families, who have all been introduced -- we're so pleased to see you here in the Pentagon.  Soldiers from the 3rd ID returning here to participate in this event, we welcome all of you, and certainly other distinguished guests and officials.  We thank you all so much for being with us today.

 

            This is a most important ceremony; indeed, a most unusual one.  Interestingly, 32 years ago this week, in lower Manhattan, what was then the -- the world's tallest building, officially opened for business after an impressive ribbon-cutting ceremony.  The World Trade Center at that point was a symbol of American enterprise and ingenuity.  Its twin towers seemed to reach the sky.  They were testaments to the energy of free men and free markets.

 

            The evil that drove extremists to topple those towers and to rip an ugly gash in this building -- killing some total of 3,000 people that day -- it's difficult to comprehend that evil.  It's hard to know what motivates men to hate and to murder, and to reject the God-given rights of freedom.  But this much we do know.  From our earliest days, America has had the great good fortune to be blessed by volunteers, who have stepped forward to defend the American people and to defend our free way of life.  They're soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines.  They're paramedics and nurses, firefighters and policemen.  And they're family members, who often struggle with quiet dignity while those loved ones serve so far away.

 

            A few of them have famous names.  Some undertake crucial missions in secret.  Others live in gracious anonymity.  But each is driven, I believe, by love of country, certainly a devotion to duty, and – I would guess -- the hope of leaving their loved ones and future generations a safer and a better world.

 

            One of the bravest among them we honor here today.  A decade after Sergeant First Class Paul Ray Smith first saw combat in Operation Desert Storm, he returned to duty in Iraq -- a proud sergeant, a tested soldier, and certainly an inspired leader.  We stand in awe of the heroism described in Sergeant Smith's citation, and which was so eloquently recounted at the White House ceremony yesterday.

 

            Standing here today, one need not look far to understand what motivated his bravery.  Certainly we see in the shared pride and the grief of those he loved, in his children, David and Jessica, who daily brought him joy; his wife, Birgit, who, I'm told, Paul in his final words compared to the brightest star in the sky; and his family, who saw the boy from Tampa become a man who crossed deserts to topple a tyrant, to help liberate some 25 million people and to defend our nation.  Paul R. Smith now belongs to that singular pantheon of brave patriots who fought for something even more sacred than their own lives.

 

            Our history is truly blessed with such heroes.  In 1861 a Union soldier named Sullivan Ballou wrote a letter to his wife, Sarah, one week before he fought along a quiet creek called Bull Run.  This would be the first great battle of the Civil War, and Sullivan's letter would be the last letter he ever wrote.  In it, he told his wife – he said, "My love for you is deathless.  It seems to bind me with mighty cables that nothing but omnipotence can break; and yet my love of country comes over me like a strong wind and bears me irresistibly on, with all these chains, to the battlefield."  I think that captures

well the spirit of men like Paul Smith. 

 

            And now Paul joins America's truly most admired fraternity: those awarded the Medal of Honor.  It's a fraternity so revered that President Harry S. Truman once confided to a soldier he decorated -- he said, "I'd rather have this medal than be president."

 

            And today we include Sergeant Paul Smith in the Pentagon's Hall of Heroes, established as a mark of appreciation to those who have received this highest of distinctions.  Including -- here are people you may have heard of, some of them:  General Jimmy Doolittle, Sergeant York, Lieutenant Colonel Theodore Roosevelt.  And we're also honored that two members of that fraternity join us today:  Major Alfred Rascon and Colonel Barney Barnum.  There you are.  Good to see you again.  And we thank both of you for being here and clearly for your courageous service to our country.

 

            It was Theodore Roosevelt who said, "The one thing I want to leave my children is an honorable name."  And Paul Smith has done that, and a great deal more.  He has left his family and his country a life of great meaning and entrusted us with his faith in America and its mission.  And for that faith, he laid down his life, and for that sacrifice, we are forever in his debt.  And in his name, we're called upon to ensure that his trust was well-placed and made to endure.  May God grant his dear family comfort, and may God continue to watch over our great country.  Thank you.

 

            STAFF:  The official party will now take its place for the presentation.

 

            The president of the United States of America, authorized by act of Congress, March 3rd, 1863, has awarded in the name of Congress the Medal of Honor to Sergeant First Class Paul R. Smith, United States Army, for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life, above and beyond the call of duty. 

 

            Sergeant First Class Paul R. Smith distinguished himself by acts of gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty in action with an armed enemy near Baghdad International Airport, Baghdad, Iraq, on 4 April 2003.  On that day, Sergeant First Class Smith was engaged in the construction of a prisoner of war holding area when his tank task force was violently attacked by a company-sized enemy force.  Realizing the vulnerability of over 100 fellow soldiers, Sergeant First Class Smith quickly organized a hasty defense consisting of two platoons of soldiers, one Bradley fighting vehicle and three armored personnel carriers.

 

            As the fight developed, Sergeant First Class Smith braved hostile enemy fire to personally engage the enemy with hand grenades and anti-tank weapons, and organized the evacuation of three wounded soldiers from an armored personnel carrier struck by a rocket-propelled grenade and a 60-mm mortar round.  Fearing the enemy would overrun the defenses, Sergeant First Class Smith moved under withering enemy fire to man a 50-caliber machine gun mounted on a damaged armored personnel carrier.  In total disregard for own life, he maintained his exposed position in order to engage the attacking enemy force. During this action, he was mortally wounded.  His courageous actions helped defeat the enemy attack and resulted in as many as 50 enemy soldiers killed.

 

            Sergeant First Class Smith's extraordinary heroism and uncommon valor are in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service and reflect great credit upon himself, the 3rd Infantry Division, "Rock of the Marne," and the United States Army. 

 

(Presentation is made.)

 

            (Applause.)

 

            STAFF:  Ladies and gentlemen, please be seated.

 

            The official party will now move to the unveiling of the plaque. (Pause.)  The plaque being unveiled will be permanently displayed here in the Hall of Heroes, signifying the induction of Sergeant First Class Smith into this heroic group.  (Plaque is unveiled.)

 

            (Applause.)

 

            Ladies and gentlemen, as the official party takes their seats, it is my honor to introduce Mrs. Birgit Smith.

 

            BIRGIT SMITH (widow of Paul R. Smith):  Got to catch my breath first.  (Chuckles.)

 

            First, I would like to say how proud I am to receive this award in honor of Paul.  Paul loved his country, he loved the Army, and he loved his soldiers.  He loved being a sapper.  He died doing what he loved.

 

            I'm grateful the Army gave Paul the opportunity to fulfill his dream of serving his country.  He touched so many lives in so many ways and made a lot of people better soldiers and better people by what they learned from him.

 

            I would like to thank all of the soldiers who influenced Paul as he advanced through his military career.  Most described him as tough, fair and always putting the mission and his soldiers first.  Paul was proud of all of his troops, particularly those in 2nd Platoon, Bravo Company, 11th Engineer.  He was dedicated to duty and unwilling to accept less than the best. 

 

            My family and I continue to be overwhelmed by the American people's appreciation of his service, and I'm sure Paul would be proud to know that I have begun the process of becoming an American citizen.

 

            Sixty years ago, American soldiers liberated the German people from tyranny in World War II.  Today another generation of American soldiers has given the Iraqis, the Afghani people a birth of freedom.  This is an ideal that Paul truly believed in.

 

            I know that Paul is looking down on the ceremony, along with Staff Sergeant Hollingshead and Private First Class Myer and all the other fallen soldiers from Operation Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom.  May God bless them and their family.

 

            Every soldier has a story.  Because of this award, Paul's story of uncommon valor will forever be remembered.  As soldiers, I encourage you to tell your stories, because the American people and the world will better understand the sacrifice of Paul and others like him.  One soldier's story at a time.

 

            Hoo-ah and God bless you.  (Applause.)

 

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