Genuine heroes, lasting impressionsPublished 5:11am Sunday, November 11, 2012
Most Lawrence Countians might not have recognized Martin Leonard Smith, Jr., when they saw him, but the 30-year Army veteran was unforgettable to anyone who ever heard him play “Taps” to honor a fallen soldier.
Hitting just the right notes on his trumpet or bagpipes, Smith was a community fixture, performing at veterans’ events, parades, volunteering at more than 100 military funerals each year and leading the annual Ironton-Lawrence County Memorial Day Parade.
Smith passed away in July 2005 but his impact hasn’t been forgotten by friends, family and decades of parade watchers.
“In his last parade, he couldn’t walk it. He was in horrible shape,” Lawrence County Common Pleas Judge Richard Walton, who graduated high school with Smith and had known him since they were 5 years old, said in a 2005 interview. “But Marty rode in the parade and he still played. He was still giving. He gave until there was nothing left to give.”
Smith was one of several veterans who I had the honor and privilege to get to know a bit over the years and share their stories.
Smith was one of the county’s many colorful veterans who served their country proudly and never asked for a pat on the back.
That is a theme that is all too common with Lawrence County’s veterans. It certainly applies to David Malone.
A Waterloo native who planned to become a farmer, Malone was barely 20 years old when his country asked him to do his duty and fight in a country he had barely heard of: Vietnam.
For 14 long months, Malone served in the jungle, fighting for our freedoms.
Like many Vietnam-era veterans, Malone came into direct contact with Agent Orange and other chemical warfare items. The man battled skin, bladder and prostate cancer. Years of remissions and relapses took a toll on him as he got older, finally succumbing to those illnesses in May 2007.
But, even at the end, he wasn’t bitter about the high price he had to pay for our nation and our freedom. He never let the disease to touch the spirit that his friends and family love so much.
“If I had to do it all over again I would still go,” Malone said in a 2003 interview. “If they told me that (his son) David (who served in the Air Force reserves) had to go today, I would gladly take his place.”
Malone’s legacy and passion to fight for veterans rights lives on through the work of the AmVets Post 5293, the service organization that he led, helped find its first permanent home and that is now named in his honor.
Hero is a word that is tossed around far too liberally in today’s society, but it is a moniker that both Smith and Malone earned through their deeds and patriotism.
Michael Caldwell is publisher of The Tribune. To reach him, call (740) 532-1445 ext. 24 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @MikeCaldwell_IT.