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Battle for Honor: West TN Soldier Gets Medals Decades Later

By Brad Douglass
By bdouglass@wbbjtv.com

JACKSON, Tenn.-Independence Day is just a couple of days away.
It is a time many feel a surge of patriotism and extra pride to be an American.

That pride is much more than that for one West Tennessee Vietnam veteran. The pride to have served his country in the U.S Army takes on special meaning after years of waiting for recognition of his bravery.

"I think that was the first time I ever actually had fear, that I would be killed," said SGT Emmett Smith, or 'Snuffy' as he is known. He reflected on the night in 1967 he and his men came face-to-face with the enemy.

"We were out on LP, me and my guys and we had our firefight with the enemy. I's needing help and they couldn't get none and I said, 'well, don't worry about it, they done pissed us off now and evidently that caught the ear of the Colonel."

Smith and all of his men escaped, thanks to help from a helicopter pilot who helped guide them away from the Vietnamese. His commanding officer, Colonel William Cronan thought Smith should be recognized for his bravery and leadership.

"So we got back in and all my men said, 'he's putting you in for a Silver Star with Vs," said Smith.

A Silver Star for bravery with vs,meaning valor. But the Colonel never got the chance.

"Three days later, Col. Cronan got killed and then everything went to hell in a hand basket. Nobody knew what to do, papers got lost."

Sgt. Smith did have one way to prove he was due that commendation.

"The only proof I had was that it came out in the Old Reliable newspaper," he said

It still was not enough to garner the Silver Star his late Colonel promised. So, the years went by and time only added to Smith's frustration.

"Well, I knew it was a waste of time, cause all they do is write to St. Louis and there's no evidence there, they'd say, 'Sorry, we can't help you'. After a while, you'd just forget things and let it go," added Smith.

Finally, last April, after 45 years and with the help of the men he had served with and the support of his family, word came Smith would finally receive his commendation. But he did not get the Silver Star he waited so long for.

"It was downsized to a Bronze Star with Vs or something, I don't know, but the only reason I got the medal was because proof of it down there in the newspaper we had in Vietnam," said Smith.

"It was a complete surprise to me and an honor to get it, in front of my men, bunch of officers down there, my family."

Even now, this veteran said he would proudly serve his country again.

"I would. In a heartbeat. I love America. I hope a new generation coming up will love America like I do, said Sgt Smith.

In addition to receiving the Bronze Star medal, Sgt. Emmett 'Snuffy' Smith was also awarded the Order of St. Maurice medal, another prestigious honor for his actions and bravery while serving his country.

Smith said of the two awards, the one he cherishes the most, is the Bronze Star.