Dear Lt. Colonel Gary F. Smith,
I hope you don’t find this question too forward, but I can’t help but wonder how you felt and what you were thinking that morning five years ago while you were sitting down for your meeting at the Pentagon. Did you have time to think or feel anything at all?
I am certain that if you had, your thoughts would have been with your family – your wife and four daughters – wishing you could be with them to hug them one last time, to tell them you love them and that you’ll always be with them. Perhaps you even had time to be grateful for the time you did spend with them. I hope you did.
My father was only five years younger than you when he died, also suddenly. And while I know the circumstances were much different, the impact is largely the same. One thing I know for sure is that you will continue to be an inspiration to others as you live on in their memories. You will be an inspiration to me.
Through what little I could find of your life, I know that before you retired, you were a well-decorated soldier who saved the lives of your fellow soldiers when your helicopter went down during the Vietnam War. I know that you were a dedicated father and sports enthusiast, coaching many local softball, soccer, and volleyball teams in your hometown of Alexandria, Virginia. I know that you were passionate about lobbying for retirement benefits for Army personnel. I know that you are missed by your family.
They say everything happens for a reason, and that all we can do is try to learn from our own difficult experiences in life, to try to make our lives better both for ourselves and for our fellow man. If that is true, then I know that your death will not have been entirely in vain. I believe we are in fact learning, every day, how to be a better people. And I for one am honored to have been given the opportunity to pay tribute to your life.
With my sincerest and humblest remembrances,
Jackson Heights, NY