Area mourned its first soldiers lost in decades
19 March 2004
A U.S. Army honor guard carries the cremated remains of Army Chief
Warrant Officer Eric A. Smith, a career helicopter pilot, at his funeral in
Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia in May 2003.
The war in Iraq has so far resulted in the deaths of two soldiers with ties to the Rochester area.
Army Chief Warrant Officer Eric A. Smith, 41, a Brighton native, was among seven U.S. soldiers killed April 2, 2003, during an accidental crash of a Black Hawk helicopter near Karbala. The career helicopter pilot was not piloting that aircraft.
Sergeant Heath A. McMillin, 29, of Clifton Springs, Ontario County, was killed July 27 when the vehicle he was riding in came under fire during a night patrol near Al-Haswah, a village 20 miles south of Baghdad.
Smith, a 1980 graduate of Brighton High School, earned a bachelor’s degree from Rochester Institute of Technology in 1985. He was the area’s first war casualty since 1972.
Smith, the youngest of three brothers, was unmarried and had no children. He spent his 15-year Army career as a helicopter pilot and instructor, and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
McMillin, a former Marine serving with the New York Army National Guard’s 105th Military Police Company, was the first state Guardsman killed in combat since the Korean War. When his unit was called up in February 2003, he was one weekend away from fulfilling his four-year Guard commitment.
McMillin, a 1993 graduate of Midlakes High School, left behind a wife, three children, his parents and four siblings. He is buried in St. Rose’s Cemetery in Shortsville, Ontario County.
Smith, who hadn’t lived in the Rochester area for more than 15 years, was serving at Hunter Army Airfield in Georgia when he left for Kuwait in January 2003.
Despite the distance in miles and years, Smith still had a coterie of longtime friends here. Many were on hand in July, along with his parents, when a memorial garden was dedicated to Smith near the Brighton Town Hall.
“He loved teaching, and he made a million friends,” said his father, Theodore Smith of Florida.
Earlier, just a month after his son’s death, Theodore Smith put his son’s untimely passing in perspective. “They say we suffered low casualties in this war,” he said. “With Eric alone, there are hundreds of casualties.”
Before his deployment with the 105th, McMillin worked at Phelps Cement Products in Phelps, Ontario County. At his funeral in August, Gov. George E. Pataki called him “a true citizen soldier.”
Sergeant Fred Salber of Ogden served with McMillin in Iraq and slept in the bunk next to him at Camp Kalsu, a firebase south of Baghdad. “We always knew the danger level — it was all around,” he said. “In some areas (of Iraq), if looks could kill, we’d all be dead.”
Delphine “Denny” Foreman of Victor, Ontario County, the mother of one of Smith’s childhood friends, summed up all the war tragedies playing out nationwide, and remembered with special poignancy today.
“Nobody wins a war, do they?” she said. “We all lose.”
18 May 2003:
Friends and family celebrated the life of a local man who died while serving his country in Iraq.
Chief Warrant Officer Eric Smith died when his Black Hawk helicopter went down in April. Smith was awarded the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star.
He was buried in Arlington National Cemetery earlier this month.
“That devastated me,” said Smith’s mother Lillian Lake. “I think that's one of the worst experiences a mother can have. I mean it's a beautiful ceremony…definitely he deserved it. But for a mother walking behind those horses carrying him…”
This weekend his family said it wanted to celebrate his life. Smith was a Brighton High School and RIT graduate.
“I knew what he was doing what he wanted to do,” said childhood friend Scott Strother. “He would be a big, big critic of all this fuss we're making because Eric very much a low-key strong silent kind of guy. I still feel empty; it's our first high school friend to lose their life. “
Smith’s family has set up an endowed scholarship fund at RIT in his name. If you want more information about that you can call the university.
Courtesy of the Washington Post: 13 May 2003
‘Lively, Strong' Pilot Honored at Arlington
Army Soldier Shot Down In Iraq Is Remembered
Theodore Smith recalls the “bad feeling” he had when his son called home in late December to say he was being deployed to Iraq. And the panic he felt when, two months later, he heard that an Army Black Hawk helicopter — the kind his son piloted — had been shot down in Kuwait.
And the relief that washed over him a few hours later when the phone rang in his Port St. Lucie, Florida, home and his son was calling on a satellite phone, sounding a little fuzzy and far away, but alive.
The father's relief was temporary, however. Five weeks later, another UH-60 Black Hawk crashed in the desert while battling Iraqi troops, this time claiming the lives of Chief Warrant Officer 3 Eric A. Smith, 41, and five others from the Army's 2-3 Aviation Battalion of the 3rd Infantry Division.
“I'm still in shock,” Smith said. “He was the apple of my eye. I loved that boy to death.”
Yesterday, the gray sky threatened but did not rain as Eric Smith's flag-draped coffin was borne along the tree-shrouded lanes of Arlington National Cemetery in a somber ceremony of unfurled flags and muffled drums that has unfolded 19 times since the invasion of Iraq began about eight weeks ago.
Smith had been cremated and the urn containing his ashes placed in the coffin. The urn was removed from the casket for the service by two white-gloved soldiers. Rabbi Marvin Bash read the 23rd Psalm and prayed in Hebrew.
“Eric,” he said, “was one of the heroes who gave his full life, his full strength and his full being to the cause of freedom. Eric was fearless . . . admired and loved by his fellow pilots. He was lively and outgoing, stoic and strong.”
As the band played “America the Beautiful,” the soldiers folded the American flag that had draped his coffin and presented it to his mother, Lillian Lake of Lake Placid, Fla. The soldier's parents, divorced for more than 20 years but reunited by tragedy, wept and clutched hands as a bugler sounded taps.
A New York native, Smith grew up in the Rochester area, the youngest son of a Jewish orthodontist and his Cuban wife. An avid soccer player, Smith graduated from Brighton High School in 1980 and went on to earn a business degree from Rochester Institute of Technology in 1984.
Scott Strother, 40, a vice president of sales for Sony Electronics in Richmond, remembered his lifelong friend as being introspective. “The strong, silent type, definitely not afraid of anything,” Strother said.
Smith met some Navy pilots while working at a comedy club in San Diego in 1986, his father said, and he decided to become a pilot himself. He trained at Fort Rucker in Alabama and went on to fly helicopters and teach flying with the Army in Korea, Germany and Egypt. He had been stationed at Hunter Army Airfield in Fort Stewart, Georgia, for six months before his unit was deployed.
“I was very worried,” said his father. “I told him, ‘Keep your head down and don't take any chances, son.' He was never afraid of anything. He said, ‘Don't worry about me, Pop, I'll be fine.' “
In letters and e-mails, Smith described the gathering sandstorms, living in a tent, watching “Seinfeld” reruns on the Internet and munching the pretzels his father had sent him in a care package.
“We departed the bright city lights right into the black desert in the middle of the night,” he wrote. “We moved like pond water . . . almost 6 hours to the field site.”
“I will be flying the big boys, so I will be out of range most of the time, so do not worry,” he wrote in another message.
Smith was a passenger in the helicopter that went down April 2 near Karbala, south of Baghdad. The cause is under investigation.
“It's humbling,” Strother said of Smith's death. “It brings the war home. It brings the preciousness of life home, how there is someone you are never going to embrace in life again. In that regard, it's hitting all of us pretty hard.”
It's called unit cohesion. Soldiers train together. They live together. In times of war, they fight together and, sometimes, die together.
The six men who died in the crash of an Army Black Hawk helicopter Wednesday near Karbala, Iraq, were members of Bravo Company of the 2nd Battalion, 3rd Aviation Regiment, based at Hunter Army Airfield in Georgia. They came from different parts of the USA. That the four pilots and two crew chiefs were in the same helicopter on the same day was a result of a common bond: They loved flying and the Army.
The crew were: Captain James Adamouski, 29, of Springfield, Virginia; Chief Warrant Officer Scott Jamar, 32, another pilot, never met an activity he didn't like when attending high school in Sweetwater, Texas; Chief Warrant Officer Erik Halvorsen, 40, also a pilot, was a career officer who joined the Army in 1986. His sister, Ingrid Halvorsen, said he left service briefly to try his hand at commercial aviation. ”He didn't like it and went right back in the Army,” she said; Chief Warrant Officer Eric Smith; Specialist Mathew Boule, 22; Sergeant Michael Pedersen, 26, of Flint Michigan.
Chief Warrant Officer Eric A. Smith, 41, of California. He was killed when his UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter crashed in central Iraq April 2. He was a member of the 2nd Battalion, 3rd Aviation Regiment, Hunter Army Airfield, Georgia.
Chief Warrant Officer Eric Smith, 41, had the flying bug even as a youngster. But he never acted on it until he was 26, and fell into a conversation with some Air Force pilots in a bar in San Diego. They invited him to take a flight.
He joined the Army and became a helicopter pilot. ”He just loved flying,” said his mother, Lillian Lake, of Lake Placid, Florida.
Smith grew up in the Rochester, New York, metropolitan area, where he played soccer at Brighton High School and was, according to his mother, ”picky about his friends.”
A graduate of the Rochester Institute of Technology, Smith never married.
In December, he visited his mother and spoke of not coming home. ”He said, ‘Remember, it was my choice. I was not drafted. I was not in the reserves. I love what I'm doing and I want to die that way — flying a helicopter — if that's the way it has to be,' ” Lake recalled.
SMITH, ERIC ALLAN
- CW3 US ARMY
- VETERAN SERVICE DATES: 06/07/1988 – 04/02/2003
- DATE OF BIRTH: 06/17/1961
- DATE OF DEATH: 04/02/2003
- DATE OF INTERMENT: 05/12/2003
- BURIED AT: SECTION 6-JJ ROW 20 SITE 3
ARLINGTON NATIONAL CEMETERY
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Michael Robert Patterson was born in Arlington and is the son of a former officer of the US Army. So it was no wonder that sooner or later his interests drew him to American history and especially to American military history. Many of his articles can be found on renowned portals like the New York Times, Washingtonpost or Wikipedia.
Reviewed by: Michael Howard