BBBS honors two ‘Bigs’ who served in the military

Published 11:37 am Friday, November 10, 2023

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POLK COUNTY—Big Brothers Big Sister of Polk County recently honored two Veterans who serve as Bigs in its organization, Bill Smith and Ryan Lail.

“Being a Veteran means to sacrifice yourself for your country,” said Program Coordinator Jessica Toney. “We have the honor of having two Veterans still choosing to give back.”

Big Brother Bill Smith achieved a private pilot license while at Clemson University, in the Flight Instruction Program. He then went to train at Reese Air Force Base in Lubbock, Texas in 1968 and 1969. After Bill graduated, he went to Phu Cat, South Vietnam in January 1970, where he flew an EC/47 Reconnaissance plane in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. Bill flew 165 Combat missions and returned to the US in January 1971. He received the Distinguished Flying Cross for bravery, six air combat medals and five Oak Leaf clusters. 

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After Vietnam, he was stationed in N.C., flying KC-135 Aerial Refueling aircraft, and had four more remote tours during this time, accumulating 65 more combat missions. He left the Air Force in 1975 with over 4,000 flying hours. Bill has two different Little Brothers whom he spends time with, making a positive impact everyone needs in their life. 

Big Brother Ryan Lail served in the Air Force from 1997-2001 and worked as a precision measurement lab tech. Ryan was stationed at Keesler AFB in Mississippi, Lackland AFB in Texas, and an AF detachment in Port Hueneme, Calif. He continues to serve our country as a Tryon Police Officer. Ryan and his Little Brother have been together for over eight years.

Littles took the time with their Bigs to make thank you cards, notes and letters showing their appreciation to Bill and Ryan and other Veterans for their service. Little Sister Mariana’s card says, “Thank you for watching us in the world. Thank you for watching us.”

“Working with these Big Brothers is an honor, knowing the sacrifice and willingness to give of themselves for the betterment of others,” said Toney. “Big Brothers Big Sisters of Polk/Rutherford would like to thank Bill and Ryan and all other Veterans for their unwavering service.”