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Cpl Terry L. Smith

Corporal Terry Lee Smith was born on the May 13, 1947, in Nashville, Tennessee, to Henry and Dorothy Smith. As a young boy growing up, he loved the outdoors, physical activities, and the simple pleasures of life. Throughout his youth, he participated in numerous activities such as little league baseball, Cub Scouts, and the Boy’s Club. He was also very much involved in his community and church, having been baptized at age twelve at the Grandview Church of Christ. It was at an early age that Terry learned to give of himself for others as evidenced by his work as a junior counselor at summer camps.


During his high school years, Terry lettered in football, tennis and badminton at Central High School while continuing his outdoor activities of hunting, fishing, camping, horseback riding and water skiing. In his senior year, he received an award for the most improved player in football.


After high school, Terry attended Middle Tennessee State University for one year but felt compelled to serve his country as so many of his friends were doing. Following the example of his father who had served in World War II, Terry volunteered to serve his country on the 17th of May 1966.


It was Terry’s understanding and value of life that enabled him to freely give his life for his fellow Marines on February 20, 1968. See Silver Star citation here.


Prior to Cpl Smith’s death, he was awarded the Navy Commendation Medal, the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry, and the Vietnamese Military Merit Medal (equivalent to the United States Medal of Honor. Terry Lee Smith was awarded, posthumously, the Silver Star Medal, with the citation for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action while serving as a radio operator  with Company “M” Third Battalion, Twenty-sixth Marines, Third Marine Division, Fleet Marine Force in the Republic of Vietnam. The citation continues:


“On 20 February 1968, on Hill 881S near Khe Sanh, Corporal Smith observed a Marine helicopter landing in a zone on which he knew North Vietnamese Army gunners had registered heavy mortars.  He realized that the aircraft would almost certainly be destroyed if it remained in the landing zone, and attempted unsuccessfully to contact the pilot by radio.  Aware that the enemy rounds were probably already on the way, he restrained a Marine junior to him from going out on to the zone, and leaving the safety of his bunker ran across the open ground signaling manually to the helicopter crew to take off immediately. As the helicopter took off and before Corporal Smith could reach cover, he was fatally wounded by mortar fragments, gallantly sacrificing his life so that the crew might live.  By his extraordinary courage in the face of over- whelming odds, his uncommon concern for others, and his self- sacrificing efforts, Corporal Smith reflected great credit upon himself and upheld the highest traditions of the Marine Corps and the United States Naval Service.”


William H. “Bill” Dabney, Colonel USMC (Ret) was, at the time of the incident a captain and commanding officer of India Company (reinforced with two platoons of Mike Company), Third Battalion, Twenty-Sixth Marines, Third Marine Division.) Several years after the death of Cpl. Smith, he talked with a Marine from 881S who had visited Smith’s parents and found that the award which then-Captain Dabney had recommended Smith for had not been acted upon. The original recommendation package had been sent to Khe Sanh a couple days after Cpl. Smith’s death but, due to a direct hit at the command bunker at Khe Sanh the paper work may have been lost. Dabney wrote, “Understand that unit administration, including award recommendations, was not simple then. I resubmitted it and it was approved. Further, General P. X. Kelly, considering Corporal Smith’s actions a perfect example of what the Air-Ground Team is all about, approved naming the new Henderson Hall Gymnasium for Corporal Smith in 1985.”