Larry Gene Smith was born in April of 1947 in Fort Wayne, Indiana, and raised as the oldest child in his family. The Smith family was no stranger to tragedy. Even before Smith’s birth, they had experienced the devastating loss of his older brother, who tragically died at five years old after being hit by a car just days before Christmas.
Smith’s childhood was marked by an extraordinary event that demonstrated the power of fate. At age five, he accidentally found himself in a life-threatening situation when he hung himself on a swing. In a stroke of miraculous luck, an elderly and sickly neighbor, who rarely took that particular route, happened to pass by and save his life while another neighbor, who typically wasn’t home during the day, rushed to give CPR. Smith explained, “It was a pure miracle that I came out of that alive, and I know the good Lord was with me.” It took Smith over 11 hours to regain consciousness. Smith laughed, “After that, my mother didn’t let us do anything.” When he woke, he told his parents that he had met the angels and heard them sing – a moment that would stay with him for the rest of his life.
The Smith family continued to face challenges as they grew. His younger brother joined the family a couple of years after him, followed by a sister when he was ten years old. His mother nearly lost her life during childbirth when his sister was born prematurely and was significantly underweight. A groundbreaking medical procedure saved both their lives, cementing his mother’s resolve to keep her children safe and protected at all costs.
At the age of 18, Smith was drafted into the Army for the Vietnam War. He underwent training at Fort Knox, KY, for boot camp and at Charleston, SC, for AIT or Advanced Individual Training. He specialized in light weapons infantry, where he learned small arms, including handling the M14, M16, and grenade launchers. Smith stated, “I was what they called a ground pounder.”
After completing AIT and before being deployed to Vietnam, Smith married his first wife, who he met on a blind date. They had one daughter together.
Once training was complete, Smith was assigned to the 2nd Battalion 14th Infantry Regiment, known as the Golden Dragons. They were attached to the 25th Infantry Division. The 25th Infantry Division established its headquarters at Cu Chi, northwest of Saigon.
Stationed at the Cu Chi Base Camp in Vietnam, he found himself thrust into the harsh reality of combat by being injured days before his 19th birthday and narrowly escaping death on more than one occasion.
Smith described one of those tumultuous moments stating, “We were in a really bad firefight, and to this day, I swear somebody hollered my name, and I turned my head to the right, and a bullet went right past me so close to my head I couldn’t even hear it and hit the guy leaning on the back of me.” Smith continued, “He rolled out into the open, and I shook my gear and went out and got him back in. It went right past me, but I know it was meant for me.” Smith earned an Army Commendation Medal for heroism that day. The commendation is awarded for sustained acts of heroism or meritorious service.
In another harrowing episode, a simple moment of hesitation to examine a strange bush revealed a minefield beneath his raised foot, allowing him to save his company from potential disaster. The men halted and traced their footsteps backward to get to safety.
Smith served as an infantryman for ten grueling months, navigating the horrors of war. While recalling his close encounters, he said, “I should’ve been dead. I know the Lord picked me up and carried me to safety three times in my life.” Though he narrowly missed the infamous Tet Offensive due to a timely 30-day leave when he reenlisted, his experiences on the battlefield were no less harrowing. Once home on leave, Smith was granted an additional 30 days due to his father having a severe heart attack.
When Smith decided to reenlist after his initial tour of duty in Vietnam, he was fortunate enough to secure a spot in an electrical program focused on machine repair. Following his year in school, he was stationed in Germany for three years. After Germany, he returned stateside to Fort Lee before being sent to Korea. During his time in Korea, he and his wife of 7 years divorced. Smith eventually found love again, this time with a Korean woman. They were married and had three daughters together.
With only 90 days left in his military service, Smith was sent to Virginia to work in the DC area. He promised his wife he would leave the Army if he wasn’t quickly promoted to an E7. Though he was poised to achieve the rank of E7, Smith’s commitment to his family led him to transition into civilian life.
Stepping into his civilian career, Smith embarked on a new chapter. He initially began working for Marriott Corporation before transitioning to a pivotal role within the federal government. As part of the Army Medical Support Agency, Smith was responsible for managing military records for doctors and dentists across the Army. He then transitioned to the research and development center, taking on an IT role. Over the course of a decade, Smith served both as a government employee and as a contract worker, further showcasing his adaptability and expertise in various roles within the government sector.
Smith is now retired and spends his days with his best buddy, his dog Amigo. Smith also has a cat named Kiki. He loves to work on large intricate puzzles as long as they are over 1,000 pieces. Fishing, a beloved pastime since childhood, holds a special place in Smith’s heart. However, he faces the challenge of declining health, which has made venturing out for fishing expeditions a tougher endeavor.
Altogether, Larry Gene Smith dedicated an impressive ten years, ten months, and eight days to the United States Army, spanning continents, roles, and challenges. Smith’s life journey exemplifies resilience in the face of adversity. From the shadows of loss and brushes with fate to the rigors of war, he navigated life’s challenges with unwavering determination. His story is a testament to the indomitable human spirit, guided by intuition and shaped by tragedy and triumph.