The last full measure of devotion
By ALEX LEARY, Times Staff Writer
Published January 25, 2004
[Photo: courtesy of Brigit Smith]
|David and Jessica Smith in New Port Richey on the day of their father's funeral in April.
The final chapter of Paul Smith's story is told by those who knew him best:
Pvt. Thomas Ketchum: "A lot of people thought (Smith) was a prick, me included. . . . But now I realize what he taught us saved our lives."
Janice Pvirre: Paul's mother, who lives in New Port Richey. "I'm angry. I'm very angry. It's caused me to question my own Christianity, and I know I shouldn't. But I know there is a reason for it and it will be revealed one day."
Sgt. Kevin Yetter: He knows Smith could have ordered Seaman to man the machine gun rather than do it himself. But Smith "wouldn't send a private to do it. I think he did it knowing that he was better at it and could lay down that protective fire." Yetter has returned to duty along with the other two GIs wounded in the courtyard, Sgt. Berwald and Pvt. Hill.
Elizabeth DeLauter: Now 3, the daughter of Sgt. Harry DeLauter got over her anemia. She still sleeps with the teddy bear Smith drove 40 miles to give her. Her mother named it Smithy.
Jessica Smith and David Smith: They miss Sundays, when they wrestled on the floor with their dad. They miss the pushups he doled out as punishment when they ran in the house or slammed a door. "I don't hear you counting," he would bellow. "Do it again."
Jessica, 17, speaks of her adopted dad as "the one who was there for me. He was my father from day one." She plans to study child psychology at the University of South Florida this fall.
David, 9, doesn't talk much about losing his dad. He is in counseling at school. Birgit says he plays war a lot more now than he used to. She fears he'll want to be a soldier when he grows up.
Birgit Smith: After the war, she moved from Fort Stewart to Holiday to be closer to Paul's family. In her new home, she sleeps with Paul's shirts, keeps his dirty Buccaneers ball cap hanging on the bedroom wall. She takes it down when she feels sad and presses it to her face. From time to time she watches Top Gun on DVD.
Birgit is asked about Paul's nomination for the Medal of Honor. Her eyes tear up.
"I'm just glad that he's not a statistic," she says. "Paul died for what he believed in. . . . It kind of upsets me that he was such a good soldier, because where does that leave me?"
What would Paul say to that?
"He would say, "We knew from the beginning that military life is not easy. It takes soldiers to war.. . .'
"I'm sure a lot of guys would put their family before the military," she continues. "But for Paul the military was so overwhelming, so powerful. He really loved living for his men. . . . I hear from the soldiers that we were on his mind constantly, but in the time of battle can you really think of your wife or your family?"
Paul left the answer in his laptop.
You will be in my thoughts and heart every day. You are what I see in the brightest star I see in the evening as I look at the stars. . .
For some reason I can't think of what to say to the kids so tell them I miss them . . . I have a hard time picturing them and I look at the old pictures in my wallet but they are so different than the pictures I have.
Well Birgit, I love ya and don't want ya to go crazy wondering about me. We will be just fine. See ya soon.
- Reporter Alex Leary can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 1-800-333-7505, ext. 6247.