Retired Army Ranger trades jungles of Vietnam for golf at Eagle Landing

By Bruce Hope bruce@opcfla.com
Posted 4/7/21

OAKLEAF – A hero walks among us.

Clay County resident William Smith is a remarkable American. The retired U.S. Army Command Sergeant Major is a decorated veteran and a member of the U.S. Army …

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Retired Army Ranger trades jungles of Vietnam for golf at Eagle Landing

Posted

OAKLEAF – A hero walks among us.

Clay County resident William Smith is a remarkable American. The retired U.S. Army Command Sergeant Major is a decorated veteran and a member of the U.S. Army Ranger Hall of Fame. Earning the distinction is challenging enough in itself, but surviving multiple combat deployments, injuries, serving 25 years on active duty and finally being inducted into the hall of fame says it all.

The 84-year-old father of one is originally from Jacksonville. He served for a quarter of a century all over the world, undergoing some of the most grueling training and combat situations. Following his military time, he worked for another 20 years with the U.S. Postal Service before retiring for a second time.

Smith was drafted into the Army in 1954 and completed Basic Combat Training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, in 1955. Following BCT, he went to Fort Bragg, North Carolina, where he completed infantry school and the Airborne Course, where he became a qualified military parachutist. He quickly rose through the ranks, earning sergeant’s stripes at Fort Campbell, Kentucky and Germany, where he graduated from the 7th Army Noncommissioned Officer Academy. In 1962, he earned the coveted Ranger tab after completing the punishing course.

Smith broke barriers by becoming the first Black enlisted man to be an instructor in the Florida phase of Ranger school as the Noncommissioned Office-In-Charge of the small boat exercises.

In 1966, he joined American forces in Vietnam, where he saw combat and was wounded.

“We stayed in the boonies,” said Smith of that first tour in Vietnam. “In the jungle, so to speak.” That time in the boonies led him to his first injury, which earned him a Purple Heart, Silver Star and a six-month stay at Walter Reed military hospital in Washington, D.C. While leading a patrol, his unit came under fire from an enemy ambush. The point-man was hit in the chest, and Smith attempted to save him. His weapon was shot out of his hand, costing him three fingers.

Despite that, he continued to direct his men to counterattack the enemy, until they were defeated and the mission was completed. Only at that point did he allow himself to be medevaced to the rear.

After recovering, he eventually returned to Vietnam, where he was the Operations NCO for classified in-country and cross-border missions with Military Operations Command-Vietnam, Special Operations Group.

Smith could have medically retired from the service following his first tour in Vietnam. He had no interest in doing that, though and he had to get letters from a past commander as well as a General with whom he had previously served as he petitioned the Army to remain on active duty.

“I didn’t have to go back the second time [to Vietnam],” he said. “I wanted to go back over there and discharge my duties.”

After his time in Vietnam, he served another 10 years, before retiring from active duty in October 1980.

Smith held several senior NCO positions and was held in high regard at the Rangers combat training course.

Throughout his career, he received numerous decorations, racked up 175 parachute jumps and earned Jumpmaster status.

His awards include the Ranger tab, Airborne wings with jumpmaster star, bronze German efficiency badge, Expert Infantry Badge and Combat Infantry Badge.

After retiring from both his military and postal service careers, Smooth moved to Clay County in 2013, where he now lives in Oakleaf. He likes it there and enjoys playing golf near his home.

“I just enjoy living in the area,” he said. “I got a golf course down the street from me, and if I want to walk there, it’s in walking distance. The Eagle Landing golf course. I play a lot of golf.”

Smith is what most Americans aspires to be: selflessly dedicated to our nation’s lofty principles.

“I been in service 25 years and enjoyed every minute of it. I raised my hand nine times [to re-enlist],” said Smith. “So that should tell you how I feel about it [America].”

He is a beacon of duty and an embodiment of the U.S. Army values; loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity, and personal courage.

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