BY DUANE VACHON — There was nothing to suggest in the early morning hours of July 27, 1935 that the new baby being born from the backwater town of Wahiawa on the island of Oahu was different from any other baby born that day. The baby boy of Hispanic-Asian descent was christened Elmelindo Rodrigues with the unusual family name, in Hawaii anyway, of Smith. It was in Wahiawa where he received his primary and secondary education. He joined the United States Army in 1953.
Smith was stationed in various countries overseas, among them was Okinawa. During his stay in Okinawa, he met a Hawaiian-born WAC by the name of Jane and soon they were married. They established their home in a military post in Tacoma, Washington and had two daughters, Kathleen and Pamela.
On July 23rd 1966, four days before what turned out to be Smith’s last birthday he was sent to Vietnam where he joined the 1st Platoon, Company C, 2nd Battalion, 8th Infantry of the 4th Infantry Division.
The division had been heavily involved in combat operations in the western Central Highlands in the border area between Cambodia and Vietnam. The division had been in regular and intense combat operations with the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) regular forces in the mountainous area called Kontum.
On February 16, 1967, Smith was leading his platoon on a reconnaissance patrol, when suddenly it came under intense enemy attack. NVA forces attacked the patrol with machinegun, mortar and rocket fire. Despite the fact that he was wounded, he coordinated a counterattack by positioning his men and distributing ammunition. He was struck by a rocket, but continued to expose himself in order to direct his men’s fire upon the approaching enemy. Even though he perished from his wounds, his actions resulted in the defeat of the enemy, and the saving of many of his men’s lives.
Smith was recommended for the Medal of Honor for his actions. The family received the medal from the hands of Secretary of the Army Stanley R. Resor because President Lyndon B. Johnson was ill at the time. However, after the ceremony, which was held at the White House, the family which included his widow Jane and two daughters, Kathleen 10 and Pamela 6, were taken to President Johnson’s bedroom.
Medal of Honor citation
SMITH, ELMELINDO RODRIGUES
Rank and organization:Platoon Sergeant (then S/Sgt.), U.S. Army, 1st Platoon, Company C, 2d Battalion, 8th Infantry, 4th Infantry Division.
Place and date:Republic of Vietnam, 16 February 1967
Entered service at:Honolulu, Hawaii
Born:27 July 1935, Honolulu, Hawaii
For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty. During a reconnaissance patrol. his platoon was suddenly engaged by intense machinegun fire hemming in the platoon on 3 sides. A defensive perimeter was hastily established, but the enemy added mortar and rocket fire to the deadly fusillade and assaulted the position from several directions. With complete disregard for his safety, P/Sgt. Smith moved through the deadly fire along the defensive line, positioning soldiers, distributing ammunition and encouraging his men to repeal the enemy attack. Struck to the ground by enemy fire which caused a severe shoulder wound, he regained his feet, killed the enemy soldier and continued to move about the perimeter. He was again wounded in the shoulder and stomach but continued moving on his knees to assist in the defense. Noting the enemy massing at a weakened point on the perimeter, he crawled into the open and poured deadly fire into the enemy ranks. As he crawled on, he was struck by a rocket. Moments later, he regained consciousness, and drawing on his fast dwindling strength, continued to crawl from man to man. When he could move no farther, he chose to remain in the open where he could alert the perimeter to the approaching enemy. P/Sgt. Smith perished, never relenting in his determined effort against the enemy. The valorous acts and heroic leadership of this outstanding soldier inspired those remaining members of his platoon to beat back the enemy assaults. P/Sgt. Smith’s gallant actions were in keeping with the highest traditions of the U.S. Army and they reflect great credit upon him and the Armed Forces of his country.[
Sergeant First Class Elmelindo Rodrigues Smith’s remains were buried with full military honors in Section W Grave 131 at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific located in Honolulu, Hawaii. His name is inscribed in the Vietnam War Memorial located in Washington, D.C. in Panel 15E – Row 051.
Duane A Vachon PhD works at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific. He is the author of “Gems From The Antipodes: 12 Collections of Faith-Focusing Insights” He also writes a weekly column in “ The Big Island Reporter”. He can be reached at email@example.com.