Marine turned firefighter/paramedic awarded Navy Cross

Under a sweltering sun at Irving Veterans Memorial Park, Staff Sargent Eric Smith, Retired, U.S. Marine Corps, received the Navy Cross from Major General Paul J. Kennedy on Thursday, Sept. 14. The prestigious award, the second highest military decoration after the Medal of Honor, honors Smith, who is an Irving firefighter and paramedic, for his courageous actions in 2004 while serving with the Marines in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Kennedy welcomed the many guests, including Smith’s wife, son and parents, and also members of the U.S. Marine Corps as well as other service members including fellow soldiers who served with Smith in Iraq who, Kennedy said, are affectionately known as the “Magnificent Bastards.” Also attending the ceremony were some of Smith’s fellow firefighters and other friends.

Kennedy, who is the commanding general of the Marine Corps Recruiting Command, took time to thank all first responders and especially those who are helping with Hurricane Harvey relief efforts.

In 2007, Smith and fellow U.S. Marines were in the Iraqi city of Ramadi on a mission of goodwill. In early April 2004, Ramadi erupted into violence when Marines came under fire in 12 locations at the same time, which indicated a planned, coordinated attack.

U.S. quick reaction forces were disbursed to repel the attacks. As part of the quick reaction force, Smith’s platoon was ordered to reinforce a squad which was under attack. En route to assisting the squad, two multi-purpose vehicles were ambushed, leaving the platoon commander critically wounded. Under heavy fire, Smith assumed command of the platoon and led them to safety.

Smith’s bravery included him running back across the fire-swept field to evacuate the platoon commander and any weapons. Smith coordinated and led a counterattack and freed the isolated squad. Upon arrival of an Army Bradley Fighting Vehicle Platoon, Smith facilitated the evacuation of casualties and devised a withdrawal plan for all units back to the command post.

When it was time for Smith to speak, his brief remarks reflected both his humility and his devotion to the U.S. Marine Corps. He emphasized that “one can have no better friend and no worse enemy than a United States Marine.”

Smith, a native of Waxahachie, enlisted in the Marine Corps May 2001 out of a recruiting station in Fort Worth. He graduated boot camp in August of the same year.

Smith also received the Silver Star, the third-highest decoration for valor in 2004, for his actions. He joined the Irving Fire Department in 2008.

Irving Mayor Rick Stopfer was among the guests. Stopfer said “the ceremony demonstrated the quality of people we have in Irving.”

Stopfer heard that when Smith initially found out he received the Silver Star, he said it should be for his men and not himself.

“He’s very humble,” Stopfer said.

As mayor, Stopfer said he is learning more and more about the good people who are in Irving.

Following the ceremony, guests moved into the auditorium of the old Central Library for a reception, where they were able to pose for photos with the quiet and brave firefighter.

Irving Deputy Mayor Pro Tem John Danish, who was instrumental in the founding of Veterans Memorial Park, said he was “moved and gratified a ceremony this important was held in this venue.”

Many had words of praise for Smith.

“Eric Smith is the most professional and determined firefighter I have known and exemplifies all that a firefighter should be,” said Irving firefighter R.A. Reed.