LONSBERRY: Remembering Zach Smith

AN ESSAY FROM A MARINE WIFE

Written September 8, 2011 by Anne Smith

I met Zach Smith my ninth grade year. At the time we were attending the same small-town high school.

When I met him, I thought he was the funniest guy I had ever met. I later found that not only was he funny, cute and a varsity football player; he went to church every Sunday with his family, had a huge heart, and was ambitious.

Zach had trouble with school but still worked hard to earn that diploma because when he graduated, he was joining the United States Marine Corps.

Now, four years later, Zach is a Marine and I am Mrs. Zachary Smith. He’s just nineteen and I’m only eighteen, but we both knew that we are meant to be.

We have almost been married for six months, now.

He is based out of Camp Lejeune, NC as an 0311 infantry rifleman, or as he calls himself, a “grunt”. All he has ever wanted to do is to fight on the front line for our country.

If I had it my way, he’d be with me in little Hornell, NY.

However, he’s government property and currently serving a tour in Afghanistan. He left one month ago yesterday, actually.

This has been the most difficult thing I have ever been through. Eight months without knowing when the next time will be that I hear from him. Of course there’s the thought “is he okay?” constantly running though my mind, but I’d rather not discuss that.

I have more respect for my husband than I do anyone I have ever known.

Although being enlisted is tough on him and our families, he is doing what he signed up to do without complaint. Every time I hear from him, whether it’s a call home or a letter, he is always up beat.

I cannot begin to imagine what he’s seen, but he’s always in good spirits to ensure his family and me that he is doing okay.

I can’t wait to see him step off that bus this July.

But most importantly, I can’t wait to spend the rest of my life with him.

Anne Smith

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Lance Corporal Zachary Smith was killed in action in Afghanistan less than a week after this essay was written.

LAST NIGHT AT THE FUNERAL HOME

Written February 3, 2010 by Bob Lonsberry

HORNELL, NY – I spent two hours last night in the cold outside Dagon Funeral Home. There were three or four hundred people ahead of me, two retired schoolteachers behind me, and a congressman about a dozen people back.

When I left, in the cold dark, the line still stretched out the front door, left down the sidewalk, around the corner, and back for two blocks.

That’s how it is when a hero dies.

That’s how it is when a small town loses its first such hero. The first since Vietnam.

Lance Corporal Zack Smith was 19.

His high school sweetheart will be a widow on their first anniversary.

And the price of freedom will never be clearer than it was last night in the cold.

The pictures inside showed a young man who could be a model of what a young American man should be. Strong, robust, smiling, obviously full of joy. Ready to tackle the world and whatever it had to offer. In a football uniform, on the golf course, in the arms of his family, in the arms of his bride. In the uniform of the United States Marine Corps. You felt a shiver as you saw and thought.

This is the fruit of America, this is the best we produce, this is the salt of the earth and the foundation of the future. This is what was lost in the south of Afghanistan in the fight to keep the war over there and the peace over here.

On January 24 an explosive went off and three Marines were dead. Eight years at war and thousands lost and this is the price you pay.

Only the odds are you don’t pay it. And neither do I. Odds are it is paid by all-American families from every corner of this country, mothers and fathers and sisters and brothers. Hearts broken, dreams shattered, loves lost.

He was a great kid, a good son, an American patriot.

And in the connections of a small town, in that fabric that is the substance of life’s richness, most of the people in line knew one another, or were related to one another, or felt close to one another.

Zack’s wife’s mother was five years behind me in school. His grandfather was best friends with my uncle, and his great-grandfather worked on the railroad with my grandfather. The guy ahead of me in line was school friends with Zack’s dad, and cousins with his wife’s father.

But the brotherhood in the place was of country, not blood. There was love of Zack and his family, but there was also love of America. A palpable patriotism, expressed in stuttering grace at one time or another by almost all the people in line. There were men in Vietnam veterans hats, Marines with combat medals on their chests, a guy with a 1st Cavalry pin on his lapel, another with a service ribbon, countless with American flag pins. The congressman wore a Naval Academy ring and there were four motorcycle guys out front lining the walk with flags.

This was America. The real America.

Where a state trooper and his wife can raise a son noble enough to wear the uniform of the United States.

Where a community and a culture can give a young man a chance to chase his dreams and be who he wants to be. Where two young people can fall in love and pledge their lives to one another.

Even if that’s barely six months.

Even if a warrior’s homecoming passes through Dagon’s and St. Ann’s on the way to St. Mary’s.

This is America. The real America.

And at the head of the line, inside the warmth of the funeral home, stood the family, shaking hands hour after hour, exchanging hugs and smiles, words and tears, memories and promises. A grandmother who was grateful for offers of prayers, a grandfather who paused to stare ahead and above as the emotion overcame him, a proud brother and loving mother, a father with the physique and the haircut of a Marine himself. And a teen-aged widow with her husband’s embroidered name strip around her wrist.

And a casket where Zack lay in the dress blues of the United States Marine Corps.

That’s what war means.

That’s what freedom costs.

That’s what one family paid.

That’s what a small town lost.

That’s what the rest of us must live worthy of, what we must live up to, what we must never forget.

Last night in the cold, hundreds stood in line to bear witness of their love for a family and their commitment to their country. They quietly waited for a moment to whisper what was in their hearts, and what their presence shouted for all to hear. They quietly waited to say “Thank you,” and “We love you,” and “We will always remember you.”

Bob Lonsberry

Bob Lonsberry

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