By Pfc. Aubree Rundle, 82nd Combat Aviation Brigade Public AffairsSeptember 8, 2006
FORT BRAGG, N.C. (Army News Service, Sept. 6, 2006) - Richard L. Smith was serving with Company B, 229th Assault Helicopter Battalion, 1st Cavalry Division, when he first came under fire on Nov. 17, 1965.
The place was Albany Drop Zone in Vietnam's Ia Drang Valley, site of the first major engagement in the war. A Specialist-Five helicopter crew chief, Smith rushed onto the battlefield to rescue several wounded Soldiers his team had come to evacuate from the firefight.
His exploits that day weren't forgotten - they were recounted in "We Were Soldiers Once...and Young," a book co-authored by retired Lt. Gen. Harold G. Moore, who was Smith's battalion commander during the battle, and former war correspondent Joe Galloway, who was a reporter on the ground who witnessed many acts of heroism that day.
Smith deployed to Vietnam three times and spent more than 22 years on active duty before retiring as a sergeant first class, but he seldom talked about his wartime experiences until recently.
"Having the battle recognized in a book and a movie, that seemed to make it easier for him to share his story from that day," said Smith's wife, Nancy.
That recognition came full circle on Aug. 29, when Richard was awarded the nation's third-highest wartime medal for valor.
Smith received the Silver Star in front of a formation of Soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division's Combat Aviation Brigade, and was named an honorary member of the 82nd Aviation Regimental Association for his exceptional role in Army Aviation.
During the presentation, Division Commander Maj. Gen David Rodriguez thanked Smith's family and three of his crew members, who had also participated in the battle and were present at the ceremony.
Rodriguez then turned to Smith and said, "A few years ago, the Army Chief of Staff put out a warrior ethos for all of us to learn, in the same tradition and legacy of what you did that day. The words are: 'I will always place the mission first, I will never accept defeat, I will never quit, and I will never leave a fallen comrade'."