Each year, one local veteran is chosen to be honored at the Miami Trace High School Veterans Day breakfast and assembly. On Thursday, Steven Lee Smallwood — a 1966 Washington High School graduate and US Army veteran — was recognized for his outstanding service.
Miami Trace students, Libby Aleshire and Bryce Bennett, spoke about Smallwood, who was in attendance, in front of other local veterans during the assembly held in the high school’s Quali-tee Design Performing Arts Center. Every year, the Miami Trace High School staff and student government organizes and presents the event.
The following was the presentation made about the life of Steve Smallwood:
“Steve was born on May 4th, 1948 in Circleville, Ohio. Steve attended and graduated 11th in his class from Washington High school in 1966. While in high school, Steve was a varsity basketball player, baseball player, as well as a runner in track and field. After high school, he attended college at Ohio University where he planned to become a history teacher. A short time later, Steve sat out a quarter at college due to lack of money for his education. His plan was to save up money and then start attending college again; however, Steve was drafted in 1968 to the U.S. Army at the age of nineteen.
“During this time, in the words of Steve ‘Uncle Sam knocked and I was on my way.’ He did basic training in Fort Gordon, Georgia where he worked both physically and mentally to prepare him for the battles ahead. After basic training, he was sent to Fort Polk, Louisiana which was ‘Tiger Land,’ and this meant that he was going to Vietnam. Once he completed his training in Tiger Land, he and one hundred and twenty others were put through numerous tests. There were three left after these tests with high enough scores, and Steve was one of them. They were given the choice to stay out of Vietnam or put off going for a certain amount of time, but both of these options had conditions that went with them. Steve chose to go to NCO school which gave him thirteen more weeks in the country and then he would be sent to Vietnam. While at NCO school, he was sent to Fort Jackson where Steve was put in charge of a platoon in order to prepare him for being in charge of a squadron in Vietnam. After completing his training, Steve was shipped to Vietnam with a year left.
“While in Vietnam, Steve saw many different types of things, both good and bad on and off the battlefield. One of the things that he mentioned was the wildlife. He said that he personally saw a 12 foot cobra slither into camp, tons of mosquitoes, and aggressive monkeys that would jump down onto the shoulders of the soldiers and bite their ears. Not only did he run into the wildlife while in Vietnam he also had close interactions with the traps made to kill and injure the soldiers. One of the men in his infantry set off three traps in one day. One of the traps that Steve described was punji sticks. The punji sticks were sticks that were sharpened and spread with cow dung to cause infection to the people that fell into the trap. Steve said that even though these traps seem very dangerous; they were some of the easiest traps to detect because of the way that they used thatch to cover them.
“Steve was in a specialized platoon that was known as the C.R.I.P. which means Combined Reconnaissance Intelligence Platoon. There were thirty men in the specialized platoon, and their job was to do recon. Steve was their forward observer, and he had numerous responsibilities on his hands including calling in airstrikes, firepower, and choppers. The reason he got that job was because he could read a map and could do coordinates.
“Upon returning from Vietnam, Steve went back to Ohio University for a year, but due to lack of funds; he made the decision to go to work. He worked at various places after leaving college, but he found one job that he was especially fond of, which was the Waterplant in Washington Court House. After thirty five years, Steve decided to retire from his job. He is now an avid fisherman, and goes whenever he gets the chance. Steve also loves golfing with his friends, and his son, Jeffrey Smallwood.
“Steve’s love of fishing led him to the love of his life, Lee . He met her while on a fishing trip in Canada with a small group of friends a little while after returning home. His other two friends met their wives there as well. Coincidentally, they all got married and had children within a year of each other. They are all still friends to this day despite the physical distance between them.
“Steve would like for everyone to remember that life is a precious gift and should never be taken for granted because you never know how long you will be on this earth. He would also like to remind everyone that the people that were killed in Vietnam were not the only ones permanently affected. Thousands of soldiers that returned home from Vietnam died decades later due to complications related to the agent orange that they were exposed to. Also many veterans continued to fight PTSD once returning to everyday life. Steve sacrificed two years, eleven months and twenty one days of his life for his country.
“Steve remembers many things about Vietnam, but as time passes he says that he will always remember his draft number that he memorized by heart which is US51880324.
“It is an honor to have Steve at our assembly today and we sincerely thank him for his time serving our country and our community.”
Also during the assembly, the high school “Soundsations” performed “The Star Spangled Banner” and “Taps.”
Ed Helt, Glenn Rankin and Jill Phillips presented the winners of the Americanism awards. Look for more on these winners next week in the Record-Herald.
The assembly was streamed live on the district’s Facebook page and can be viewed there.