SOUTH DANSVILLE — Everyone met at The Gathering Place in a small community to dedicate this year's Memorial Day to Lcpl. Zachary Smith.
The South Dansville community chose to honor a fallen hero from Hornell, and his father, Amity State Police Officer Chris Smith shared his son’s story during the ceremony at Forest Lawn Cemetery.
Betty Holden organized the Memorial Day parade, and helped decorate the float in memory of Lcpl. Zachary Smith with a single cross, and the words “Freedom Has A Price” on the side.
“It is an honor for me to be here today and talk about something that is near and dear to my heart … my son,” Chris Smith said. “He was killed when he was only 19 years old. He would be 26 now if he was still alive. He was killed in 2010. He was married and buried at the same church.”
Lcpl. Zachary Smith was an inspiration in his short life. The community has come together to honor his name and legacy over the past six years. He was killed-in-action on January 24, 2010 in Afghanistan.
Chris Smith went on to share how his son always wanted to be a U.S. Marine.
“He never talked about,” he said. “We always thought he would go to college, but he wanted to be a Marine. He wanted to join up as fast as he could. Zachary wanted to be grunt, which meant he would be the first one into battle. The first one to fight. We wanted him to train first, but he wanted to be a grunt.”
“As a father I did not want my son to be a grunt,” Chris Smith continued. “He went to boot camp 12 days after he graduated. He switched with a boy from Albion, who had to wait until later. He went to Parris Island, and his mother wrote him a letter every single day. We would find out what he was doing everyday from a website, and would talk to him about it in the letters.”
On Oct. 3, 2008, Zachary graduated from Recruit Training in Parris Island, S.C. He completed the Marine Corps School of Infantry and was then assigned to the 2nd Platoon C Company 1st Battalion 6th Marines, based out of Camp LeJeune, N.C. On Dec. 17, 2009, he was deployed to Afghanistan.
“Zachary was not a very good student, he did what he had to do to get by, but he excelled as a Marine,” Chris Smith said. “They had these pigs they would put under with anesthesia, and would operate on them. Pig skin is a lot like human skin, so that is how they learned medical training. I never expected that from my boy. I always thought he just wanted to go over there and shoot everything.”
On that day that will be with Zachary’s family and friends forever Chris Smith recalls what happened to his son.
“He was a sniper in his platoon. He was told to go higher up, and as he went to take a step he stepped on a homemade bomb,” he said. “He was the first one killed in his platoon. All the other boys wanted to stop to care for him, but were told to go. Daniel Angus stayed behind to help him, and stepped on a homemade bomb too. That boy was my hero, he stopped to care for my son who was going to die, and was killed along the side of him.”
Lcpl. Zachary Smith was a son, brother, friend, husband, teammate, hero, and champion.
Several things were done in his honor, such as a golf tournament that raises $4,000 for one lucky senior, and since he was a football player his number was retired, so no one will ever wear 56 again. His name is on the Marina Park Veterans Wall, Congress approved changing the Hornell Post Office to the Zachary D. Smith Hornell Post Office, Hornell YMCA named its new gym after him, and Hornell High School graduate Gloria Gambino is attending Nazareth College in Rochester, wrote the play “SMITH” to celebrate the life of Zach. It was performed in March 2013.
Zachary married his highschool sweetheart Anne Deebs on July 25, 2009. She and Chris Smith were told of Zachary’s passing at the same time.
Chris Smith talks about his son at the Victim Impact Panel. This is for people who were caught driving while intoxicated or on drugs.
“I tell them that at 8 a.m. two Marine’s showed up and told me my son was dead,” Chris Smith said. “I pulled over a military boy who was very polite, and I couldn’t give him a ticket. I went back to my car and cried. It ruins my days, and they become a black cloud. I have a dream where I see Zach and he never talks, he is young, and I always hug him. I always tell myself not to wake up, because when I wake up he won’t be there. I miss him so bad when I am awake.”
Chris Smith has been told he will get use to the new normal.
“There is no new normal,” he said. “My son is never coming back. I like to talk about Zach. i am scared I will forget him someday. The pond we fished at won’t make me cry everytime I pass it. I tell myself I need to feel this misery. I miss him.”
Lcpl. Zachary Smith was awarded the Purple Heart and Medal of Valor.
The next golf tournament in his name will be June 18. To learn more about this brave young man visit his website at http://www.zdshometownhero.com/
Eden Stephenson, 10, performed a lovely song at the service.
“I love coming to the South Dansville Memorial Day service every year” Yvonne Stephenson, Eden’s mother, said. “They are one of the few that do a full ceremony at the cemetery. It is important for the young people to see us honor the veterans.”
Yvonne Stephenson talked about a cross-country trip she took with her children to Oregon a few years back, and how they were cut off from all devices.
“We used a road map and stopped in small towns to talk to people,” she said. “That is what America is all about.”
Rodney Holden, Yvonne’s father was in the US Navy before Vietnam. He sets up the sound system, and stage for the ceremony every year. Afterwards, he hands out programs to everyone who attends.
Grand Marshal Randy Dieter thanked everyone for coming to the service, and wished them all a Happy Memorial Day. Pastor Greg White led them all in prayer, and closed the ceremony in prayer. Ben Knight played Taps.