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Veterans share stories

DAILY LEADER / KATIE WILLIAMSON / A flag placed on a grave at the Rosehill Cemetery by the waves in the wind. The flags are scattered across the cemetery near veterans’ graves.

DAILY LEADER / KATIE WILLIAMSON / A flag placed on a grave at the Rosehill Cemetery by the waves in the wind. The flags are scattered across the cemetery near veterans’ graves.

Today we remember the many wars that the United States has been involved in and our family members, friends and neighbors that fought in those wars.

These individuals that fought in these wars have stories to tell and Veteran’s Day is a way to honor those stories that helped move a nation forward.

Roy L. Smith grew up in Brookhaven and didn’t plan on joining the army.

“I wanted to be a professional football player. But then at 16 I had my first child,” Smith said.

Smith decided to sign-up for two years then return to home and continue his schooling and dream.

“Before the two years were up my second child was born,” Smith said smiling.

Smith obtained his GI bill and reenlisted. However, he wanted to specialize in something instead of being a general duty coreman. Smith attended two schools and was able to retire in March of 1994 as an E-6 first class, with a specialization in medical technology and a sub-classification of equal opportunist specialist.

“I learned to be self-sufficient, have self-respect and have respect for others,” Ray Glass, another veteran that lives in Brookhaven, said.

Glass grew up in Collins and served from the end of 1973 to 1975 during the Vietnam War. Glass said most of his service during the war happened during the cease-fire.

With his being an airborne soldier, his duties mostly involved air dropping ammunition and rice into battle zones. Glass said he was stationed in Thailand and had the opportunity to work with Cambodian soldiers as well as the Vietnamese, who had translators.

“It was a little unexpected to start with,” Glass said.

Glass had two older brothers who served their country, one in the Army and one in the Navy. Glass retired in 1975.

Smith also served in the Vietnam War and shared a story about his service that, sadly, reigns true for many people of color then and now.

“I was working in medical research in Pensacola, Florida, on the bio-environmental effects of extremely low frequency, ELF. I was the only black man out of more than 75 people and I stuck out like a fart in church,” Smith said. “Once they saw who I was they started treating me differently. They felt that I lacked knowledge and the skills because I was black.”

Smith said he was not able to do the procedure he had been brought there to do but was instead demoted to caretaker of the animals, monkeys, which were there. Smith said he wrote everyone he could and eventually prevailed despite being “pencil-whipped” where things were written about him to demean his military career and standing.

Smith remembers affectionately a white man from New York who refused to believe the things told to him about Smith from the other men in Pensacola and actually talked to Smith before making assumptions.

The last 18 months of Smith’s military career saw him through three court marshals fueled by his need to not sit idle and let his subordinates be treated similarly because of their race. Despite his more salty experiences Smith is still proud of his service and doesn’t regret his decisions.

“If I had to change anything, I wouldn’t. I’m able to say I’m honorably retired with 21 personal service medals,” Smith said.

Smith said his military legacy was built on leadership and influenced him to move back to his hometown to work on the divides he experienced as a young boy and still see present today. He has been continuing his push for equality by trying to bridge the gap that is the racial, economic and social divide. Smith just finished paralegal school at the Westwood College in Denver, Colorado so he could understand and have knowledge of the law and how to bring out unity and change.

“I’ve always been one to speak up,” Smith said.

Smith puts out an American flag every year for Veterans Day to honor the service and experiences of others’ like him.