Today’s veteran: Dennis Smith, 69
Born: Burlington, Wash.
Residence: St. Marys
Service: Navy, 8 1/2 years; Army National Guard, 14 years
Duties: Engineering aide
Rank: Petty officer 1st class
Recognitions: Vietnam Service Medal; Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal; Good Conduct Medal (Army and Navy)
Duty stations: Vietnam; Bermuda; Bahamas; Diego Garcia; Micronesia; Washington; California; Canada; Michigan; Rhode Island
His story: Dennis Smith was majoring in civil engineering in college when the luck of the draw changed his life.
The very first draft lottery was held and he was No. 13, which, in his mind, made it a virtual certainty he’d be called up for military service.
He never checked to see if he could get a student deferment. Instead, he decided to join the Navy for four years and become a Seabee.
The recruiter tried to convince Smith to become an electronics technician or serve aboard submarines, but he held fast to his goal and was trained to be a Seabee.
While much of the training was redundant because of his college courses, Smith said it helped reenforce what he already knew.
“Some of it was repetitive, but it was more hands on in the Navy,” he said. “Learning a second time was helpful.”
He was sent to Rhode Island for several months where he was trained to be a plumber, electrician and operate heavy equipment. He went to escape and evasion school before he was assigned to a 13-man civic action team in Vietnam.
His unit worked in an advisory role with RVN troops building bridges, piers, the foundation for a police substation, basketball courts and roads.
While his unit never took fire during his tour of duty there, Smith said it was unnerving serving in a war zone.
“There was no telling who was who. I was very cautious,” he said.
After Vietnam, Smith was sent to Bermuda, where he helped build an underseas laboratory in one month. He was sent to the Bahamas, where he worked on a harbor dredging project for six months.
He decided to reenlist another four years and was sent to Washington state where he worked on construction projects such as building a firing range, a taxi way and parts of a new Navy Exchange gas station.
“You always left something behind that would make someone’s life better,” he said. “It was very gratifying.”
His next tour of duty was in the Indian Ocean working on a runway extension when Diego Garcia was still being established as a Navy base.
He was later sent to Yap Island in the South Pacific as part of a civic action team, where he worked on a radio station and built roads.
“We had to build our own camp,” he said.
He left the Navy after more than eight years to spend more time with his family, but it wasn’t the end of his military service.
Smith got a job with an engineering firm. The owner, the commanding officer of an Army National Guard unit, convinced Smith to join. He served another 14 years, but was never deployed other than for routine training.
Smith’s training led to a 31-year career with the city of Covington, where he retired as the city’s public works superintendent.
“It created all my opportunities,” he said. “It is the best thing I ever did.”
Our Veterans runs Wednesdays. Contact Gordon Jackson at email@example.com, on Facebook or at 912-464-7655 to suggest a veteran for a column.