Friday, May 22, 2015 – Ralph M Smith, Corporal, United States Army, Vietnam Conflict – May 31, 1948 – October 27, 1969*
In 1997 on a trip to Washington D.C., I toured the monuments. While I had seen most of them before, on this trip I saw one monument in a different light and from a new perspective. Upon returning to my hotel room that night, I wrote this letter.
Dear Mr. Smith,
We never had an opportunity to meet. However, a friend of yours asked me to find you while I am visiting Washington D. C. And so, I gaze along this wall of black granite. Somewhere your name is listed amidst the 58,208 others. I’ve seen this wall before. This is the second time I have actually come to find a name.
I was told you were from a small west Texas town. Colorado City, I believe was the name. The population in 1997 was 7885. In the late sixties the entire town must have known when you and your buddy left home.
Your friend told me that the two of you completed your basic training at Fort Bliss in El Paso and you completed your advanced training at Fort Riley, Kansas. You were only in Vietnam nine days before you returned to Texas with the eligibility requirement that would later allow your name to be added to this monument.
Until I looked up your name in the directory at this monument, Ralph Smith was all I knew about you. Upon finding your name, I now know it was Ralph Mack Smith. You held the rank of Corporal. You were born on May 31, 1948. Corporal Smith, I looked up the day you were born. It was a Monday, the day after Memorial Day. (The law that moved Memorial Day from its traditional May 30 date to the last Monday in May took effect in 1971.)
As I moved my finger across the line in the directory, I see that you died on November 27, 1969. That was a Wednesday – the day before Thanksgiving Day. That would mean your family and friends found out as they were probably offering prayers of thanks and praying for your safe return. It also meant they faced a holiday season and new decade with grief and sorrow. Corporal Smith, you were 21 years, five months and 27 days old.
On November 27, 1969, I was preparing Thanksgiving dinner with my family. I was 20 years, ten months and 27 days old. When I was that age, I was protesting against people like you and things that were happening. Time and age do change perceptions.
I think this wall has made people change their viewpoints and perceptions on many issues. Maybe neither one of us understood the world. Who at age 21 does? But I got to see and learn about the world. You did not. I got to see and learn about it because of people like you.
It is amazing how this wall can pull you into it. Corporal Smith, your name is listed on Panel 17 W, Line 125. It is near the bottom of the panel. There is no irony lost on the fact that in order to touch your name, one must kneel and bow their head.
So Corporal Smith, on this Memorial Day, I kneel and touch your name and remember you and what you did. I do not think I will ever understand why. But after almost 30 years, I can say with great respect that I appreciate your sacrifice.
I never knew you, Corporal Ralph Mack Smith, but others did. I am sure you were a good son, a loyal friend and the lost love of a nice girl.
Every soldier should be remembered today and every day. Today, I remembered you. Thank you, Corporal Ralph Mack Smith for your bravery. I am proud to live in the land of the free because of the brave.
Dr. Delia R. Duffey
Forward to May 2, 2015
The Museum of the America GI sits just outside College Station, Texas on Highway 6. On May 2, the Museum held the dedication of the Texas Vietnam Heroes Exhibit. The exhibit displays 3,417 dog tags commemorating Texans lost in Vietnam.
I attended the ceremony and held Corporal Smith’s dog tag. When I saw Corporal Smith’s name in the directory at The Vietnam Wall in Washington, I wrote his date of loss as November 27, 1969. His dog tags show date of loss as October* 27, 1969. That is probably the more accurate.
It does not matter. Families across America lost sons that day and continue to do so as you read this. Pray for peace.
And honor and celebrate those who gave the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom.
Read more about the exhibit and the museum on its website. http://americangimuseum.org/
From its website
The Texas Vietnam Heroes Exhibit was developed by the Texas Capitol Vietnam Veterans Monument committee to honor and remember every Texan who died in the Vietnam War, including the 102 Texans who remain Missing in Action. Every Texan who made the ultimate sacrifice in Vietnam is individually represented on one of a pair of dog tags that includes his name, rank, branch of service, date of loss and home of record. The second tag is entombed inside the Texas Capitol Vietnam Veterans Monument that was dedicated March 29, 2014 on the northeast grounds of the Texas State Capitol. A scale model replica of the monument is included in the exhibit. Continued on http://americangimuseum.org/