An honor forgotten: Salisbury man receives long-delayed medal

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Dick Smith sits with a portrait of himself, in uniform, and his wife, Nettie. “I think about it every day, 70 years later,” he said.

It’s been 70 years, but the memory still bothers Dick Smith, thoughts about mortal wounds a soldier suffered during World War II, a man he tried to help with morphine, as battle raged.

The 92-year-old Salisbury resident received a bronze medal for valor for his actions, although it arrived 69 years after that horrific ordeal on the Island of Guam.

“A captain’s aide was hit. He lost his arm, but that’s not all that happened to him. He lost part of his chest. He stepped on a landmine. He was too far gone. How much can a human body tolerate?

“I knew he was going to die because I could see his heart beating. He lived maybe 5 or 10 minutes.

“Oh, I don’t like to talk about it,” Smith said, waving a hand.

But, as upsetting as it was, his bravery endured. He was a young man of 22, a member of the U.S. Coast Guard and husband with an expectant wife back home, who risked his life to administer 10 or 12 shots of morphine that he’s afraid “didn’t do anything for him.”

“We were down in a foxhole. I was thinking I was trying to help him, that’s all I was thinking about,”  he explained.

Smith, a medical corpsman, spent five days on the island, tending to 35 more men.

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Richard Smith had forgotten about the Bronze Star he was supposed to get until a reunion with former shipmates about six years ago.

“I think about it every day, 70 years later,” he said, sitting in an upholstered chair in the neatly kept Salisbury home he shared with his wife, Nettie, until her death four years ago. She was a native of Chincoteague and the couple had two sons. Now there are also six grandchildren, five great-grandchildren and one great-great-grandchild.

A native of Ohio, Smith was once an analytical chemist, then, after moving to Salisbury, he operated Merritt TV on North Division Street, later Mobile TV, a repair shop.

“At that time, my wife was pregnant and I was worried about her. I left the states in April and she had just gotten word she was pregnant,” he said.

“But I would do it again. I would want someone to do that for me. We all feel that way, I think,” said Smith, who served in the Coast Guard from 1942-1945 and was a third-class pharmacist mate upon discharge.

He had forgotten about the Bronze Star he was supposed to get until a reunion with former shipmates about six years ago. A friend who had been a yeoman on their ship mentioned it and Smith wrote to inquire.

Last August, he received  a letter from Deneen A. Day in the office of military personnel in Washington, D.C., praising Smith for administering medical assistance to Capt. C.J.  Brock and his aide.

“You ignored heavy enemy activity to reach them and administer medical treatment … On behalf of the American people, we wish you send you a long overdue thank you,” Day wrote.

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In December of 2006, Smith received another letter, also from Day, who enclosed nine medals he had never received. They are the Good Conduct Medal, China Service Medal, Asiatic-Pacific-Middle East Campaign, European-African-Middle East Campaign Medal, World War II Victory Medal, American Campaign Medal, Navy Occupation Medal with Asia Clasp, Honorable Service Pin and Honorable Discharge Pin.

“It is a pleasure and an honor to issue these awards in recognition of your honorable and outstanding service to our nation and the United State Coast Guard,” Day wrote.

“It brought back a lot of memories. I consider it to be an honor,” Smith said about receiving the bronze star. He gave it to his grandson, Steven Smith, who lives in Chicago.

“Anybody who wasn’t in combat doesn’t realize what it was like,” Smith said. “They don’t realize what the med corpsman had to contend with.”

 

Reach Susan Canfora at scanfora@newszap.com.

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