Our veterans who served our country: Franklin “Smitty” Smith

Published 10:00 pm Thursday, January 1, 2015

For many high school graduates who could not afford to go to college, enlisting in the military service was a good option. The promise of a quality education, in the military and afterwards, was the draw for Polk County resident, Franklin “Smitty” Smith, to enlist in the Navy in 1963.

“I grew up in Scotland Neck, N.C. in Halifax County and graduated from Brawley High School and wanted to find myself and see what I might do with my life. Since I could not afford college at the time, I enlisted in the United States Navy one month later. My father, John R. Smith, had enlisted in the United States Army during World War II and both of my brothers were drafted into the United States Army. My oldest brother, John C., served in Korea and my other brother, Lonnie, enlisted a year after me and was sent to Germany. By enlisting, I decided to take choice and not chance — and the family joke was that I slept on the water and they slept in the water.”

“My basic training took place at Great Lakes, Ill. Under the High School Graduate program, I was sent to the Class A military school, Parachute Rigger (PRA) School in Lakehurst, N.J. after I completed basic training. I trained in Aircrew Survival Equipment and was taught how to be responsible for survival gear for crewmen when and if their plane stopped flying. Since this included parachutes, part of my training, I jumped twice while in school.”

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“Upon completion of PRA School, I received orders for the Naval Air Station (NAS) in Agana, Guam, where I served for 18 months. After Guam, I was sent to the NAS in San Diego, California and was assigned to Fighter Squadron 96 (VF-96). With VF-96, I was deployed on board the USS Enterprise (CVAN-65) to serve in Vietnam from 1966 to 1968 as the quality control officer. My job was to take care of ordering, maintaining, and doing the final inspections for all of the pilots’ gear that they would need should they have to abandon their aircraft on land or in the water. Besides the parachutes, I made sure they had the proper flight suits, helmets, oxygen masks, rations, location gear, life raft, radios, and more.”

“When I was discharged and working as a civilian in Maryland, I took great pleasure in watching the live television broadcast of the prisoners of war (POWs) return. I was thrilled to recognize some of the pilots from my ship, the USS Enterprise, who had been shot down but were finally able to return home.”

“While serving in Viet Nam, I remained at sea for 44 consecutive days without seeing land and I learned that I could handle myself wherever I was in the world. During my tour of duty, I also visited Iceland four times and flew over the Artic Circle. I also visited Hong Kong, Japan, the Philippines and Newfoundland.”

Smitty eventually obtained the rank of First Class Petty Officer PR1 (E-6) and was honorably discharged from active duty in July 1968. He married Polk County native Jennie Twitty in 1972 and they had a daughter, Shalaundia. He worked for 33 years with the U.S. Postal Services, in Washington, D.C., during which time he studied physical education and political science through the GI Bill at the former Federal City College (now the University of Washington, D.C.) and Prince Georges’ County Community and Barber College in Lanham, Md.

Eight years after his active duty ended, he joined the Naval Reserves and stayed with it until 1993. Upon retirement, he and Jennie relocated to Pea Ridge in Polk County where he volunteers for community programs such as the Thermal Belt Friendship Council. He enjoys gardening and yard work. His advice for others who wish to serve in the military: “It is your choice; it will make you or break you.”

If you are a veteran and would you like to share about your experience in the U.S. military, please contact Robin Edgar at 2robinedgar@gmail.com or call The Tryon Daily Bulletin at 828-859-9151.