Son Accepts Medal of Honor for Hero Dad

ByABC News via via logo

April 4, 2005 — -- Today an 11-year-old boy accepted the Medal of Honor from President Bush on behalf of his father, Army Sgt. 1st Class Paul Smith. This will be only the third Medal of Honor awarded since the Vietnam War and the first since 1993.

Two years ago today, Smith, 33, found himself in a fierce battle outside the Baghdad International Airport in the early days of the Iraq War. With hundreds of members of Saddam Hussein's once-elite Republican Guard advancing, Smith's platoon was outnumbered and underarmed.

Smith took it upon himself to man the largest gun -- a .50-caliber machine gun -- providing cover to and saving the lives of dozens of his fellow soldiers before he was killed by a bullet to the head.

Smith's wife, Birgit, told "Good Morning America" today that having her husband receive the honor is "like a big burden got lifted off my heart, knowing … he will go into history."

Smith was quiet and shy, and called the soldiers under him "his boys." He told his family he would do whatever it took to bring "his boys" home safely.

Birgit Smith said her husband was so shy he probably would have been embarrassed about today's ceremony. "He probably would say we were overdoing the whole thing," she said.

But soldiers who were with him that day don't see it that way. "I realized Sgt. Smith saw what needed to be done and did it and gave his life doing it," a fellow soldier said. "We need more leaders like him in any service."

Smith's widow says she still gets calls and e-mails from the wives and mothers of those soldiers whom her husband saved that day.

"They are so grateful for what Paul did that day because their sons made it home," she said. "It makes me feel good. It makes me feel really good."

There is a memorial to Smith in the back yard of the Tampa, Fla., home he shared with his wife and the children he was devoted to -- his 11-year -old son, David, and 18-year-old daughter, Jessica.

His family remembers the simple things about Smith. His mother says he had "the greatest smile." And David says, "He was just a great dad."

Birgit Smith said that having her son accept the Medal of Honor for her husband was a natural decision. "He's the man of the house now, and I think it's just perfect for him to get the Medal of Honor," she said.

Besides the memorial in the yard and now the Medal of Honor to remember their hero father by, she says there are other ways Smith makes his presence felt around the house, like the time his picture fell off the wall.

"There are some things happening in the house now and then where I know for sure that he is there," she said. "He is showing me that he's around me."

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