S.R. Smith has been coming to Sgt. William Lloyd Nelson Memorial Post every March 25 for the past 13 years.
And he wasn’t going to let Monday morning’s snowfall keep him from missing the VFW Post’s annual ceremony to commemorate those who have received the national Medal of Honor.
“It’s always an honor, and very humbling to be here, but I usually sit in the back because it’s not about me; it’s about him,” the Middletown farmer said referring to his great, great grandfather Samuel Rodman Smith, a captain in the Fourth Delaware Infantry division who received the Medal of Honor for swimming across the partially frozen Rowanty Creek in Virginia under enemy fire in an effort to establish a crossing for Union troops during the Battle of Hatcher’s Run in the waning days of the Civil War.
“I’ll remember him, because I’m a descendant,” he said. “But for the average person, it’s events like this that make them remember, think about and understand that somebody sacrificed for their freedom.”
Due partly to Monday morning’s heavy snowfall, Smith was the lone relative of Delaware’s 15 national Medal of Honor recipients to attend this year’s ceremony.
Several current and former top ranking officials with the Delaware National Guard also braved the weather to attend Monday’s ceremony, including Major Gen. Francis Vavala, the state’s adjutant general.
“It’s altogether fitting that I’m here as a spokesman for the Delaware National Guard,” Vavala said. “Of the 15 Delaware recipients, seven of those were national guardsmen who received this award for action during the Civil War.”
Vavala said the men and women of today’s Delaware National Guard are following in the footsteps of those Medal of Honor recipients.
“Every day, we’ve got personnel from our organization that are placing their lives on the line for all of us,” he said. “God bless all of you patriotic Americans for your perseverance in not letting today’s members of our military … go unheralded. By your presence today, you show your commitment to honoring the men and women of our military, past and present.”
Retired Army Maj. Gen. Frank Ianni said it’s important to also remember the ultimate sacrifices made by men and women who were not so fortunate as to be recognized with the nation’s highest military honor.
“Many people get no medal for many brave actions,” he said. “There is never any great fairness about who is awarded and who is not, but in the end those who are cited, you always have to put yourself in their place and imagine what they went through.”
Page 2 of 2 - Retired Brig. Gen. Terry Wiley, a lifetime member of the VFW Post in Townsend, echoed those statements by quoting poet Ralph Waldo Emerson.
“A hero is no braver than the ordinary man, but he is braver five minutes longer,” he said, after recalling the humble statements of several recent Medal of Honor recipients who insisted they were only doing their job. “These actions reflect how quickly the episodes came upon the recipients and how they reacted out of training, and direction, and by a spirit to survive.”
Each of the speakers at Monday’s ceremony also took a moment to recognize Paul Cathell Jr., the president of the Delaware Medal of Honor Historical Association, and his wife, Cassie, who have organized the annual ceremony that first began in 2001.
“What got us started was our realization that most people, myself included at the time, don’t know who these recipients were, what they did or how much it means to earn a Medal of Honor,” Cathell said. “What we want is for people to remember the fact that these gentlemen and ladies have done something no one else did, and for most of them, it was the actions they made, in just a few minutes or less, that made them a hero.”