Dan Hust | Democrat
Vietnam veteran, VFW Bailey-Richman Post 9588 member and White Lake resident Dave Smith has one of his overdue Vietnam War medals pinned on him Tuesday by Congressman Chris Gibson.
Almost 50 years later, vet gets medals
Story by Dan Hust
MONTICELLO September 6, 2013 It was 1964, and Dave Smith was itching to get out of White Lake and see the world.
So he joined the U.S. Army that March.
“I was gonna be a John Wayne,” he remembered, longing for “plenty of excitement, plenty of adventure.”
The then-20-year-old certainly found what he sought by July 1965, he was in Vietnam just as President Lyndon Johnson was ramping up U.S. involvement.
He arrived in South Vietnam as a Combat Intelligence Specialist with Headquarters Company of the 2nd Battalion, 16th Infantry, 1st Infantry Division.
“We were the first Army infantry unit in Vietnam,” he said.
His job was a dangerous one, reconnoitering enemy positions to bring valuable info back to headquarters.
“We were the first ones in and the last ones out,” Smith said, affirming he saw combat multiple times.
Twice, he almost battled foes hand-to-hand, but thanks to a buddy with Korean War experience, he got out alive.
“We were fortunate,” he remarked.
Smith returned to stateside duty in 1966. By the time he was discharged the next year, he’d earned the National Defense Service Medal, Good Conduct Medal, Vietnam Campaign Medal, Vietnam Service Medal with Bronze Star, Combat Infantry Badge, Air Medal and Sharpshooter Badge (Rifle M-14).
He worked with a friend in California, then returned to White Lake and took a union job as a sheetmetal worker.
He raised a family and even got in on the biggest event of the ‘60s in Sullivan County.
“I was at the original Woodstock,” the Army vet affirmed (as a member of the Monticello Motorcycle Club, which traversed back roads and aided lost concertgoers).
But somewhere in the intervening years, Smith misplaced several of his medals and didn’t get others that were due him.
Like many veterans, he didn’t make a big deal out of it, but when he recently came in to the Sullivan County Veterans Service Agency to research benefits offered by the Veterans Administration, the staff told him he was due more than benefits.
And so this past Tuesday, Smith proudly stood in front of family and friends at the Government Center in Monticello as Congressman Chris Gibson pinned his service medals on his lapel.
“It’s a symbol of our respect and admiration of your service,” Gibson himself a veteran told Smith.
“Our Vietnam veterans ... really made a huge impact,” the Congressman affirmed, calling them his role models. “They served with very little fanfare, and we as a country really didn’t get that right.”
Gibson thanked Smith for his courage and commitment, while Smith in return thanked the Congressman for taking time for the quick ceremony.
“I thank you all for coming,” he told the crowd following that up with thanks especially to the women who supported the men while they were away fighting.