Charles E. Smith
Chief Master Sergeant
U. S. Army
Green Beret, Special Operations

Charles was born in Pontiac Michigan, as one of four children to Glen Smith and Anna Louise Stehar, who had married at ages sixteen and fifteen, and had three daughters before Charles was born. His father left the family when Charles was six months old. Charles would not meet him until he was fourteen. The family lived in a house across the parking lot from a restaurant, Chief Pontiac, where his mother worked for salary and tips six days a week, and "probably twelve hours a day," he recalls. "The people that owned the restaurant rented us the house, probably cheap. We were never on welfare, if there was such a thing," he says. "We all stayed out of trouble and we all went to school. Everything was fine. We were dressed and fed. Now, how she did it, I don't know, but she did a great job." His mother re-married. Charles began working by age eleven. He ran a paper route, bagged groceries at A&P, and caddied at a golf course, where he made "ten or fifteen bucks a day." His final job in high school was as a gas station attendant. "I basically took care of myself in my teens," Charles says. At Waterford Township High School he ran track and played basketball, and graduated in 1954, "by the skin of my teeth," he says. He recalls he did not want to go home. "My stepdad was there and my mother was there, but all I was to them was a responsibility," he says. So he enlisted in the U.S. Army in August of 1954 and was sent to Fort Jackson near Columbia, South Carolina, for basic training. He received advanced individual training in engineers at Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri. The 11th Airborne Division at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, was advertising for paratroopers for a mission in Germany, he learned. He volunteered, but discovered he needed twenty-four months in service for the mission, so he was sent to the 82nd Airborne at Fort Bragg in North Carolina. Throughout his seventeen-year career he made ninety-nine jumps. He also worked in personnel records. On June 29, 1956 he married Rebecca Sikes. (They would have three children.) Charles remained at Fort Bragg until he completed his first tour of duty in June of 1957. Leaving service, he entered Winget Junior College in Winget, North Carolina, where he earned a spot on the basketball team. With financial difficulties and a young son needing heart surgery, however, Charles tried to re-enter the service, but all branches turned him down. A local national guard commander, upon learning that Charles knew personnel records, offered to help him back into full-time service if he would re-do the unit's records. Charles got the unit's records in order, and was soon back in the army at Fort Jackson as a platoon sergeant in a basic training company. Finishing the training with his men, he was sent on to personnel where he stayed three years. Meanwhile, he was still jumping once every three months in order to maintain his jump status and pay. Charles volunteered for Special Forces, and went through two, eight-week training courses--Special Forces Introduction, and Operations and Intelligence. He says only about thirty per cent made the cut. Charles served briefly as an instructor in Operations and Intelligence then was ordered to a mission in Laos in 1962. The six-month mission, called White Star, trained Laotian soldiers to fight communists. Sent to Bad Toelz, Germany in 1963, he learned mountain training and downhill skiing, in addition to training German civilians. In 1965 he was ordered to Vietnam to cut the enemy's supply line from North Vietnam into South Vietnam through the A Shau Valley. "We were there to stop that. We got run out," he says. "Out of eleven men that stayed there that day with all the activity, seven of us got out alive." They were under attack for eleven hours. Estimate of enemy strength reached 3,000. "We held them off pretty well," he says. "They didn't get in the camp until we were leaving." After serving at Fort Bragg until 1967 he returned to Vietnam for his second of three tours. By then, he was an E-7 in rank. Charles returned to the A Shau Valley, and was stationed at Nha Trang, where Green Berets took over reconnaissance missions after Marine patrols never returned. Charles, a team leader, spent thirty days on patrol, was pulled back for three days, then returned to the field for thirty more days. Three hundred and seventy-eight airstrikes were called in during that sixty-day period, he recalls. Patrols found weapons factories, bulldozers, "every kind of machinery you wanted in that valley," he says. Most of the patrols were contained within a one-kilometer area. "Your movement is slow; your movement is precise and you listen an awful lot," he says. "The jungle is so thick you can't move much, and you don't move at all at night." They carried four canteens of water but very little food. Rations mostly consisted of a bag of dehydrated rice. In all, Charles went on thirty-six reconnaissance missions. He served his last two months at a group headquarters as special operations briefer. For their service in that mission, Green Berets earned two Medals of Honor. "We're a different breed of people than regular soldiers," he says of Green Berets. "We just don't have the `give-up' attitude." Granted an early return home, he arrived in time for Christmas in 1967. (By then he was an E-8. He later made E-9, or sergeant major, after fifteen years.) Charles says he was not mistreated as a soldier during the Vietnam era, and recalls a flight to San Francisco, in which flight attendants made sure he and three other Green Berets flew first class. "I had more people come up to me somewhere and thank me for serving," he says. "Never has anyone tried to ridicule me in my uniform. Never." Back home, Charles was made chief instructor. He was later placed in Operations Intelligence. In 1970, he was sent to Okinawa and placed in charge of training for a Special Forces company, much of which involved ocean and parachute jumping. In 1971 he returned to Vietnam for a three-month special mission called Phoenix Assassination, targeting certain North Vietnamese generals and others opposed to the war. Special Forces men were the "trigger pullers." In December of 1972 he returned to the States where he taught Special Forces Operations to ROTC at Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene, Texas. In 1977 he was sent to Fort Leonard Wood as Command Sergeant Major of an engineering battalion, his last army assignment. Charles retired in 1979 and went to work for the City of Abilene. As superintendent of the solid waste department, he pioneered a method of collecting garbage with one man in a truck. He perfected a similar operation in Newport News, Virginia, then returned to Texas where he entered Abilene Christian University, graduating in1988. He automated the City of Dallas garbage collection before he moved to Shreveport. Meanwhile, Rebecca died in 1985. In May of 1995 he married Margaret Ann Weis.