Who in the world earns 5 Bronze Stars, a Purple Hart and two Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry? My military school mentor—Master Sargent James Smith.

MSgtSmith

1980… Mount St. Helen erupts showering Portland with ash. Meanwhile, I was 17-year-old high school junior attending military school. I marched, saluted and fired howitzers for four years as a cadet at Culver Military of northern Indiana.

One fine afternoon, another cadet mistook me for a plebe—a first year military student without stature or any rights. With a smirk and fist clenched, I listened “patiently” absorbing slurs and profanity laced insults. Around the corner, Sargent Smith heard everything.

Sargent Smith casually revealed himself. “You are lucky you didn’t knock your teeth out” Sgt. Smith warned the offending cadet, shook his head and walked off.

Decades later, Sgt. Smith wandered in the back door of my class reunion celebration. At first, no one noticed. “Hey look… It is Sgt. Smith!” A nanosecond later, the crowd erupted into a frenzied standing ovation. Shocked and visibly humbled, water welled above the war hero’s lower lids.

This past year, Master Sargent James Smith was killed in a multi-car collision. Rest in peace. You are not forgotten. You are missed. You are a war hero and you were my friend.