Bellville veteran honored 54 years after his death in Vietnam

·4 min read

U.S. Army Pfc. Steven D. Smith, 20, of Bellville, gave his life during service to his country on April 15, 1968, during the Vietnam War.

The 1967 Clear Fork High School graduate was honored Thursday night by community leaders and dignitaries for his bravery with a memorial highway dedication 54 years after his death on Ohio 13 from Bellville North Road to the Interstate 71 NB ramp.

His brother, Donald Smith of Carrollton, Georgia, said he was "elated" for the tribute to his late brother who went to Vietnam in February 1968 and died in the line of duty on April 15.

"It's done. It's over. It's long overdue being over," his brother said. "This has dragged on for so many years and it's finally closure and it's the end."

Donald Smith said his brother's heroic, selfless actions were just him.

'He did it because that's what he had to do'

"When he goes in, he goes in 100%. If that meant if he went to Vietnam and he got killed, he did it 100%. He did it because that's what he had to do, that's what he was supposed to do," his brother said.

Donald Smith thanked everyone for the memorial dedication signs and ceremony.

Decorations earned by Smith include the Combat Infantryman Badge, the Bronze Star with V, the Purple Heart, the National Defense Service Medal, the Vietnam Service Medal, the Vietnam Campaign Medal and the Vietnam Cross of Gallantry with Palm Unit Citation.

Smith was a member of Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 35th Infantry regiment.

Chuck Sloan, Steven Smith's cousin, was asked if anyone had a photograph of the fallen soldier.

Sloan's wife, Marge, rolled up Chuck's left shirt sleeve.

A foot-long photograph of his cousin is tattooed on Sloan's arm with his cousin's name and the letters K.I.A.

Bill Worner read the citation Smith was awarded, the Bronze Star Medal for Heroism in connection with military operations against an armed hostile force in the Republic of Vietnam.

Mortally wounded while trying to rejoin his comrades

"On April 15, 1968, Company C was conducting a search and destroy operation off LZ Mile High. As they cautiously moved through the dense jungle underbrush, a large, well-camouflaged NVA force launched an intense barrage of mortar and automatic weapons fire at their position. Several men were wounded during the initial volley. As enemy snipers in well-concealed positions in nearby trees increased casualties, Company C began to pull back regroup and take effective positions. To cover their movement, Private First Class Smith maneuvered through the heavy enemy fire to reach a position to supply effective cover fire.

"Reaching his objective, he produced highly effective return fire which neutralized the hostile positions and provided cover for his comrades to evacuate the wounded and move to more effective positions," Worner said. "Maintaining his position until the remainder of his unit was repositioned, he began moving back to rejoin them. During this movement, he was mortally wounded by the hostile fire. His courageous and skillful actions clearly prevented more serious casualties and enabled his unit to take effective positions safely.

"Private First Class Smith's exceptional courage, preserving concern for the welfare of his comrades and exemplary devotion to duty are in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service and reflect great credit upon himself, his unit and the United States Army," the citation said.

The ceremony was attended by U.S. Sen. Mark Romanchuk, state Rep. Marilyn John, Richland County Commissioners Darrell Banks, Cliff Mears and Tony Vero, Bellville Mayor Teri Brenkus and friends and family members.

American Legion Post 535 Firing Squad fired a final salute and the playing of taps concluded the dedication.

Following the dedication, Douglas Keppler played the bagpipes at the Kneeling Soldier in the new Bellville Cemetery. Smith is buried in the Bellville Cemetery.

A replica of Steven Smith's dog tags was placed on the new Kneeling Soldier by his brother. Mayor Brenkus had the dog tags made.

Then everyone drove to the new signs for the unveiling with Donald Smith.

lwhitmir@gannett.com

419-521-7223

Twitter:@LWhitmir

This article originally appeared on Mansfield News Journal: Pfc. Steven D. Smith, Bellville honored for 1968 sacrifice in Vietnam