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American Heroes: Local vets exemplified duty in their generations

TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla., -- Larry Smith knew he would one day be a Marine, he just didn't know how quickly that would happen.

Mr. Smith came from a long line of Marines in his family, as far back as the First World War, all of them playing a part in the wars following. He was the first of three brothers to go into the Vietnam War.

Mr. Smith, now a Tinker photographer, enlisted while he was a student at Central State College (now the University of Central Oklahoma). He said he knew at some point he would be going into the Marines.

"They didn't have an ROTC program when I started college. So I enrolled in the Platoon Leaders Class that would commission me as a second lieutenant after I graduated," said Mr. Smith. "After I finished my first year I decided to drop out to make more money to take more classes. It was then that I found out that since I hadn't enrolled for another semester and being still enrolled in the program I would then be asked to report for duty." He then went on to boot camp in San Diego for 12-weeks. He was in the last of the 12-week platoons.

"I was followed by my younger brother Gary, who served in the U.S. Navy and then by my youngest brother Les. Les ended up in the same Regiment I had served with, but ended up being fatally wounded three weeks after arriving overseas," said Mr. Smith. In January 1966, Mr. Smith landed overseas. He was injured twice in a six-month span when he was assigned as a rifleman in Fox Company, 2nd Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment in Vietnam, also known as "Hell in a Helmet."

"When I got there no one had yet completed their 13-month tour. After your tour was completed you would come back to the states, possibly, then they could deploy you again. I was put into my company as a replacement for a casualty," said Mr. Smith. On his second day in Vietnam, he was on patrol. He was nervous and asked his platoon sergeant for advice. "Don't worry," the sergeant told him, "Stick with me, we won't get attacked on this patrol."

"We went out on that patrol and got ambushed. The platoon sergeant was the first American I saw killed. The second guy that was shot, as soon as he was shot, began singing the Marine hymn. I thought this is a pretty hardcore outfit." The enemy began to "walk-in" mortar fire. Mr. Smith thought then he would not live through that attack.

"That is how I began to deal with combat situations, deciding I would not live through them. If you confront your own mortality like that, life was a lot easier, and it is a lot easier to get your job done."

His first injury came on Good Friday, April 1966, when he stepped on a bamboo punji stick, which penetrated his boot and exited through the top of his foot.

He was wounded again in June 1966. He sustained wounds on the left side of his body and a chest wound. He also lost the use of his left hand when a bullet struck him in his left arm. Mr. Smith was sent to Oak Knoll Naval Hospital in Oakland, Calif., where he spent 10 months recovering from the wounds. He received two Purple Hearts and was medically discharged and retired as a lance corporal from the Marine Corps on April Fools Day 1967.

"The Purple Heart is the only medal that no one wants. All of the Marines in my family have a Purple Heart."