Michael James Smith
Specialist, United States Army
RELEASE from the United States Department of Defense
Jan 13, 2005
Media Contact: Army Public Affairs - (703) 692-2000 Public/Industry Contact: (703)428-0711
DoD Identifies Army Casualty
The Department of Defense announced today the death of a soldier who was supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Specialist Michael J. Smith, 24, of Media, Pennsylvania, died January 11, 2005, in Ar Ramadi, Iraq, when his military vehicle was hit by a rocket propelled grenade. Smith was assigned to 1st Battalion, 503rd Infantry, 2d Infantry Division, Fort Carson, Colorado.
For further information related to this release,
contact Army Public Affairs at (703) 692-2000.
For his 63rd birthday on January 3, 2005, James Smith received a call from his son who was stationed in Iraq.
Smith chatted with his offspring, U.S. Army Specialist Michael J. Smith, about how uch he was enjoying his tour of duty.
"He believed in the war, what he was doing," said the elder Smith, who lives in Coatesville. "He felt it was necessary to be there, to help those people get out from under the dictatorship."
It was their last conversation.
On Tuesday, Smith, 24, died when a rocket-propelled grenade hit his military vehicle in Ar Ramadi, Iraq.
Smith is among the latest of the 1,356 American soldiers who have died in Operation Iraqi Freedom, according to the Department of Defense.
"He was very proud of what he was doing," said James Smith. "And I am really proud of him."
The younger Smith grew up in Springfield, Delaware County, and attended Springfield High School.
"He wore all black and had bright-red hair down to his butt," James Warrington, 37, Smith's brother, said of his brother's pre-service days.
Smith loved baseball and video games, and spent summers in Ocean City, N.J. He was also a member of a rock 'n' roll band for a while.
"He didn't play an instrument," Smith's father said with a laugh. "He sang or screamed, I guess."
Warrington, who now serves in the National Guard, said Smith had dropped out of high school shortly after their mother died in 1995.
Smith had several jobs before obtaining his GED and joining the service in November 2002.
"The Army was a good change for him," said Warrington. "It turned him around."
He said he last saw his brother, who was planning a career in the military, in June during a family wedding.
"He looked the same except for the short hair," Warrington said.
Smith was tall - about 6-feet-3 - and thin.
"You could push him over with a stick, he was that skinny," Warrington said. "But I don't think anything scared him."
Smith's battalion was stationed in South Korea and was deployed to Iraq last August for a 12-month tour. Smith's father said that his son had served in the honor guard and was a driver before becoming an infantryman.
Smith was scheduled to go to Air Assault School - to learn how to jump from helicopters - but plans were postponed when his unit was sent to Iraq.
"He was really looking forward to that," Warrington said.
While stationed in Korea, Smith met his future wife, Oksana, a Russian native. Less than one month before being sent to Iraq, the couple married.
"We told him he was crazy," said Warrington. "Then he showed us pictures and she was very good-looking!"
Smith's wife and stepson are still in Korea.
Funeral arrangements have not been made. Warrington said that the family was working towards having Smith interred at Arlington National Cemetery.
Warrington is planning on traveling to Kuwait or Germany so he can accompany his brother on the flight home.
"I'm going to escort him," Warrington said,
"so his last trip isn't lonely."
21 January 2005:
On a day when Michael J. Smith’s commander in chief praised American servicemen and women for "the dangerous and necessary work of fighting our enemies," family and friends attended the funeral of the 24-year-old Army specialist who died January 11, 2005, from injuries sustained in a roadside grenade attack in Iraq.
"I am just thinking about how much I’m going to miss him," Lauren Conaway, Smith’s friend, said after the Thursday morning funeral Mass at St. Francis of Assisi Church.
White-gloved soldiers escorted Smith’s flag-draped coffin in and out of the church to the wail of bagpipes that spilled into the streets Smith roamed as a youngster growing up on East Springfield Road. A member of the Army’s 1st Battalion, 503rd Infantry, 2nd Infantry Division, Smith will be laid to rest with full military honors this afternoon in Arlington National Cemetery.
"The support we have received from family, friends and strangers has been absolutely incredible," said Jim Warrington, Smith’s stepbrother and a full-time member of the Pennsylvania National Guard. "They have been offering their condolences and asking what they can do to help. The people of Springfield remember him from parades and (Springfield Athletic Association) baseball. You really find out what kind of a family town it is when something like this happens."
According to a military press release, Smith was "conducting security and stability operations" in Ar Ramadi, a city located about 70 miles from Baghdad, when his Hummer was struck by a rocket-propelled grenade. His father, James H. Smith of Coatesville, had received a birthday call from his son eight days earlier in which the younger Smith expressed pride in the work he was doing in Iraq.
A Springfield High School dropout who lost his mother, Nancy, to cancer in 1995, Smith earned a GED and joined the Army in November 2002, determined to find the focus that had been lacking in his life. "I definitely tried to talk him out of it, but he wanted to better his life," said Conaway, who read an excerpt from the book of Daniel at the mass.
"He told me how proud his father was and how he was proud of himself and interested in what he was doing for the first time in a while."
Conaway said Smith told her he "didn’t believe in what Bush was doing politically, but he believed in defending the country and helping the Iraqi people."
Though he was the grandson of a World War II veteran with uncles who served in Beirut and Vietnam, Michael Smith was far from Army material in his mid-to-late teens, when he had hair down to his waist, a goatee, and sang in a band.
"He was thinking of a career in the Army before he got married last summer," Warrington said. "He probably would have done another tour, received a promotion to sergeant, and gone off to college. He was a pretty smart kid."
Smith was stationed in Korea when his unit was sent to Iraq for a 12-month deployment in August. A month before leaving for Iraq, he married a Russian woman, Oxsana, whom he met during his time in Korea. Warrington expects Oxsana, who has a son in Russia, to move to the U.S.
"Though we hadn’t met until this week, she’s family now," he said. "After the (burial), we will turn our attention to taking care of her and her son."
More than 1,380 U.S. servicemen and women have been killed in Operation Enduring Freedom, including 40 this month. Since Michael Smith’s death, two other members of his unit have been killed in explosions. Smith, who most recently resided in Upper Providence, was the first Delaware County resident to be killed in Operation Enduring Freedom.
"His platoon sergeant called us today during the wake and said he was going to send us pictures and video from the memorial they had for him in the desert," Warrington said.
Warrington said the family will be presented with a handful of medals at Arlington, including the Combat Infantryman’s Badge, Purple Heart, Bronze Star, Good Conduct Medal and the Army Commendation Medal.
"He was married, and all parts of his life were going good," said state Rep. Bill Adolph, R-165, a longtime friend of the Smith family. "Unfortunately, when you are fighting for freedom, some people pay the ultimate sacrifice. That’s what Mike did, and we thank him for it."
During the homily, the Rev. Salvatore M. Riccio,
who recalled baptizing Smith 23 years ago, said Smith would never be forgotten.
"Specialist Michael Smith, son, husband, brother, uncle, nephew, cousin,
fellow soldier and friend, we thank you for your life and your light,"
When Michael J. Smith died January 11, 2005, in the service of his country, the war in Iraq came home to Springfield.
Township commissioners honored Smith at Tuesday night’s meeting with a resolution citing his dedication to liberty, his role in fostering freedom and for making the ultimate sacrifice.
Specialist Michael J. Smith, 24, served in the 1st Battalion, 503rd Infantry, 2nd Infantry Division of the U.S. Army. In that capacity, he was coming into his own, said his father, James Smith.
‘‘I got a nice letter from his Sergeant, saying Mike was a leader. The Army was giving him some direction. I talked to him every two weeks or so. He said, ‘I’m doing what I’m trained to do,’ and he was proud of that,’’ said Smith.
The outpouring of support from Michael’s hometown has provided comfort to James Smith, now of Coatesville, and Mike’s stepbrother, Jim Warrington, a Sergeant in the Pennsylvania National Guard.
‘‘Many of Mike’s friends came to the service (held at St. Francis of Assisi), and they also made the trip down to Arlington National Cemetery for the burial,’’ said Warrington, indicating his appreciation for that effort.
Smith was remembered at different stages in different ways. Steve Crowe spoke about the years Smith was involved with the Springfield Athletic Association, but he told commissioners and the family another tribute was planned.
‘‘Every year on Memorial Day the Springfield A.A. has a mile walk from Haldeman Field to the high school. Along the way, we put placards in the ground to remember members who have died. From this year on, the placard for Mike will be the first one along the walk. As Mike’s elementary school principal said,‘He’s one of our guys.’ ’’
The personal memories are spread around Springfield. Warrington recalled a day in 1991 when he went to Scenic Hills Elementary School.
‘‘Mike was about 11. I was in uniform. We planted a tree in the back of the school in honor of Gulf War soldiers,’’ he recalled. ‘‘When I called the newspaper here, the secretary remembered Mike’s mom and grandmother. And when I stopped in the Wawa on Saxer Avenue, I ran into the mother of one of Mike’s best friends.’’
Smith’s gentle personality was most often mentioned. He was, plain and simple, a nice kid.
‘‘Mike’s attitude was very positive for the six months he was in Iraq,’’ said his father. ‘‘He was looking forward to the elections. He liked the people, and saw the good side of what was going on. That’s something you don’t hear much about.’’
Smith had very much found a place in the world.
He had married a Russian woman he’d met while stationed in South Korea.
He was expecting to return to Fort Carson, Colorado, when his tour expired this summer.
His father thought he was likely to re-enlist.
‘‘In the spring, we are going to plant a tree in honor of Michael somewhere on the grounds of the township building,’’ said commissioners President Thomas Mahoney.
James Smith replied, ‘‘That will be forever.’’