In summer 2002, Dave Bock drove up to the main gate of Fort Stewart, Ga. He had come to visit his new grandson.
Bock, a retired Army officer, showed his ID to the private on guard. He thought his car might be searched, although sometimes "I am merely waved in with a curt, "Thank you, sir."'
Bock expected nothing more. The Vietnam vet described himself as "just another old man coming on the post."
On this evening, though, the young private didn't just wave in Bock. He said something Bock couldn't hear, and out of the shadows stepped a soldier wearing the stripes of a sergeant first class, with "Smith" sewn on his uniform.
Smith, Bock would write later, "looked at my wife and with one swift motion dipped his head down and then up as one might have years ago when lifting your hat to a woman as a gesture of respect. His eyes then riveted back to mine."
Then, in a soft voice, Smith ordered: Present arms.
"He and the PFC rendered a perfect salute. I returned it."
"I was in tears," Bock said. "It's hard to explain the way two men who have been there, done that, just give each other respect. It's almost like two brothers."
* * *
In February, Bock saw stories about Army Sgt. 1st Class Paul R. Smith on the St. Petersburg Times Web site. They reported that Smith would receive a posthumous Medal of Honor for his action in combat outside Baghdad. One of the stories allowed readers to leave messages in a guestbook. Bock was one of more than 990 people to do so.
Most of the guestbook entries follow similar themes: thanks to Smith for his sacrifice; condolences and prayers for his family; thoughts on the "price of freedom"; repeated references to "Greater love hath no man ... "; "HOOah" from soldiers and " "Semper fi " from Marines. Other entries, like Bock's, were more unusual.
* * *
A few messages came from overseas:
"Even in France, there are some people who admire the sacrifice of the US GIs, especially of Sgt. Smith. (There are) those in my country who are not intelligent enough, too ignorant, to understand and to respect what the guys are doing there."
* * *
From a soldier's girlfriend:
"My boyfriend, PV2 Waak, was there the day SFC Smith died ... and tells me the stories of that day. I, along with Waak, believe that Paul saved their lives that day, and while I am saddened, even heartbroken, that you lost the love of your life, I am (grateful) for him being there, so I can have mine back."
* * *
From a teacher:
"As a 30-year educator and history teacher, I intend to make Paul's story a routine classroom assignment. Students today need to learn that it is only through the sacrifice of men such as Sgt. Smith that they have the luxury to pursue their education in peace."
* * *
From a West Point cadet:
"I have spent about an hour reading (Smith's story) ... I got the link from another cadet who got it from another cadet, so I'm sure many members of the Corps have seen it. As future leaders of the Army, we can only hope that upon graduation we are able to lead men as devoted to their profession, country and fellow soldiers as SFC Smith was."
* * *
From a parent:
"We do not glorify the horrors of war in our family. But when my two boys, ages 9 and 10 and my 6-year-old daughter wake up today and eat breakfast, before school they will read a printed version of this (story). ... They will be reminded there are and have been many others like him and for that reason they will have a safe, peaceful day."
* * *
From an opponent of the war:
"The soldiers murdering the Iraqi people have no business being there. They should put down their guns, and refuse to serve this illegal war which violates the very Constitution the soldiers have sworn to uphold."
* * *
From a retired Polish paratrooper:
"Paul is still standing arm to arm with his fellow soldiers: Americans, Brits, Australians, Poles and many, many others fighting in right cause."