10/15/2018 by militaryphonies
Michael Sonny Smith seems to have a lot of folks that think he is a wounded Vietnam Veteran with Valor Awards. He even made the news papers.
Most people who have seen him around town likely know that Sonny Smith, a 35-year resident of Eureka Springs, is a veteran. But only a small number of folks know the details of his war service, and those are the members of his American Legion Post No. 9.
The full story of the Vietnam War has yet to be told by anyone, he says, and some veterans are still reluctant to share their experiences.
But for the Lovely County Citizen’s Veterans Day commemoration, Smith decided to share his story in a typed letter:
M. Sonny Smith was born in Glendale, Calif., on Aug. 20, 1950.
After being drafted into the U.S. Army in August 1968 at the age of 18, and after basic combat training, field radio mechanic school and the U.S. Army Airborne Jump School, Smith was sent to Fort Bragg, N.C., headquarters of the 82nd Airborne Division, 3rd Brigade, Combat Team. There he was assigned to the 1/505 Parachute Infantry Regiment, nicknamed “The Panthers.”
He arrived at Fort Bragg in November 1968. A week later, he was off to Vietnam.
Some history: In January 1968, the 3rd Brigade of the 82nd Airborne Division was deployed to Vietnam, where the division fought in engagements in the Mekong Delta and the Iron Triangle, and on the Cambodian border.
After almost two years in the country, the paratroopers of the 3rd Brigade rotated back to Fort Bragg, N.C. In December 1969, it was the only brigade of the 82nd Airborne Division to participate in the Vietnam conflict.
Smith was in Vietnam for 12 months and eight days, returning with his unit in December 1969. During his last four and half months in country, he got “volunteered” into becoming a helicopter door gunner, he says.
“My primary military occupational speciality (MOS) was a tactical communications, radio mechanic/operator,” he said. “One day this helicopter comes in and its radio is shot up, and they have a personnel casualty. I had to wait until they pulled the body out before I could hop in to work on the radio.
“Just as I started to open my tool box, the pilot takes off and the co-pilot threw a COMM (communications) helmet at me and says ‘Put it on and man the machine gun, you’re our new door gunner now. That dead guy they just pulled out of here was our last one.'”
Smith finished his tour of duty in Vietnam attached to the 1st Cavalry as a helicopter door gunner. Toward the end of his tour, while door gunning in a fire fight, he was hit in the leg by enemy ground fire and was later awarded the Purple Heart.
When he first got to Vietnam, while serving as a squad leader for his platoon, his platoon came under fire from an enemy bunker line to the front near the Cambodian border. Smith assaulted the hostile gun position, killing the enemy gun crew. More fighting ensued, and as a result, his platoon was able to move forward and eliminate the enemy positions. For his actions there, Smith was awarded the Bronze Star.
“The war wasn’t like what I had learned in basic training,” he says. “The war in Vietnam was the heat, the smell, the noise and the screaming. No, I don’t have nightmares about who I shot. It’s what I lost that lingers.”
What he lost, he said in an interview with the Citizen on Monday, were most of the buddies from basic training.
There have been a lot of people who questioned his claims of service so we ordered his records through a Freedom of Information Act request.
The Army does not seem to know much about his claims. Their records do not have a Bronze Star with a Valor Device or a Purple Heart and Jump Wings. They don’t even show him being assigned to a command where it would have even been possible to get any of those awards.
The Army seems to think he spent a few years on Active Duty years after the war in Vietnam had ended where he managed to skyrocket in rank to Private First Class.