Medal of Honor for Sgt. Smith

Ralph Kenny Bennett:

Since his days growing up in Tampa, Fla., the lanky kid with the slightly mischievous smile had wanted to be a soldier. By this bright morning, April 4, 2003, Sgt. First Class Paul Ray Smith had more than fulfilled his dream. He had served 15 of his 33 years in the U.S. Army, including three tours of duty in harm's way--in the Persian Gulf, Bosnia and Kosovo.

Now all his training, all his experience, all the instincts that had made him a model soldier, were about to be put to the test. With 16 men from his First Platoon, B Company, 11th Engineer Battalion, Sgt. Smith was under attack by about 100 troops of the Iraqi Republican Guard.

"We're in a world of hurt," he muttered.


Sgt. Smith's men took positions around the Bradley. He could see Iraqi soldiers north, east and west of him, streaming out along his flanks. He called for a nearby M-133 armored personnel carrier, to give additional fire support with its M2 .50-caliber heavy machine gun.

As the APC passed through the breached wall, its commander, Sgt. Louis Berwald, realized that flanking Iraqi troops had occupied a roofed guard tower to his left, just outside the southwest corner of the compound, and were firing from it. He raked the tower with his M2, then moved on through the compound to a point just outside the north gate behind the Bradley.

By now the Iraqis were concentrating their fire against Sgt. Smith's small force by the gate. An RPG round hit the Bradley, and at almost the same moment a mortar round hit the APC, wounding its three occupants.

Several additional RPG rounds hit the Bradley, which by now had run low on ammunition. The Bradley retreated through the compound, exiting south through the breached wall. With one armored vehicle gone and the other out of action, Sgt. Smith's men had lost any firepower advantage they might have had.

Sgt. Smith could have withdrawn as well, back south through the compound. But beyond it was a lightly defended aid station crowded with 100 combat casualties and medical personnel. To protect it from being overrun, Sgt. Smith chose to fight no matter what the odds.

Under intense fire, Sgt. Smith's men heroically extracted all three wounded crewmen from the APC. Sgt. Smith then entered the vehicle, ordering Spc. Michael Seaman to join him as driver and "keep me loaded" with ammo belts. Sgt. Smith popped up out of the turret hatch and grabbed the grips of the .50-caliber machine gun mounted on top.

The Iraqis were practically on top of him. Coolly grasping the situation, Sgt. Smith ordered Spc. Seaman to back the APC south into the compound to a position half way down the eastern wall. There he could arc the big machine gun back and forth, from the gate entrance to the north, all along the western wall of the triangle, to the Iraqi occupied tower in the southwest corner to his left.

To fire the machine gun, Sgt. Smith had to stand in the APC's main hatch, his body exposed from the waist up to a withering fire coming at him from three directions. On the ground through the blur of combat, Sgt. Matthew Keller saw Sgt. Smith grimly firing measured bursts from atop the APC even as a hail of bullets hit around him.

Sgt. Keller yelled at him to get out. Sgt. Smith looked back at him and with a slight shake of his head, made a cutting motion across his throat with his right hand. Sgt. Keller would always remember the look in his eyes. "There was no fear in him whatsoever."

As Spc. Seaman, crouching in the adjoining hatch, fed him ammunition belts, Sgt. Smith directed an expert and murderous fire with the long-barreled M2, hitting Iraqis who tried to enter the compound through the gate or over the wall. He tried also to suppress renewed fire coming from the Iraqis in the guard tower to his left.

Finally, one of his fellow sappers, First Sgt. Timothy Campbell, led a small fire team which stole up to the tower and killed all Iraqis inside. But by this time, Sgt. Smith's machine gun had fallen silent. The attack had been broken. Nearly 50 Iraqi dead lay all over the area. Others were in retreat. But Sgt. Smith was now slumped in the turret hatch, blood soaking the front of his uniform.


There is more in a story that deserves to be told.


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