Thursday, December 09, 2004

Another of our Heroes..

He, too, counted you as a friend worthy of his sacrifice. Lance Corporal Antoine Smith played the viola in high school and being in the Marine Corps helped him overcome a speech impediment. The Orlando Sentinel has removed their story so I reproduce it here so you can get to know him a little better: (Orlando Sentinel) At Dr. Phillips High School, Antoine Smith might have been remembered only as the quiet kid with the slight stutter who played viola in the school orchestra. But days after graduating in May 2001, Smith joined the Marine Corps. And when he returned to the Orange County school to visit a year later, he was like a different young man. "He was in his Marine uniform," said Jennifer Erickson, who taught Smith in the orchestra his senior year. "He had this big smile on his face, and he didn't stutter anymore. He had so much heart, so much pride. I think Antoine had really found what he wanted to do." But this week, Erickson and her colleagues learned that the proud young Marine Lance Corporal would never return to visit again. Smith, 22, died Monday in combat in Iraq, one of more than 50 U.S. troops killed since early November in fighting to oust insurgents from the rebel stronghold of Fallujah. It might seem unlikely for a shy young musician to become a rifleman with the 5th Marine Regiment. But those who knew Smith said it was no mystery. "He would work hard for what he wanted," said Paul Waters, an Orlando businessman who befriended Smith. "And he wanted to be a Marine." Waters met Smith when they sat next to each other one day at First Baptist Church of Orlando. They shared a pew for the next seven years, and Waters became a friend and mentor to Smith. Smith was an only child, and his mother, who raised him alone, sometimes had to struggle to make ends meet, Waters said. Smith grew up in a small duplex in a west Orlando neighborhood where many young men fall into trouble with drugs and crime. But Smith's mother, Deborah, worked hard to make sure Antoine stayed on the right path, said Anne Parrette, his orchestra teacher for his first three years at Dr. Phillips who often gave him rides to and from home for concerts and rehearsals. "She worked her schedule so that she was home when he got home from school," Parrette said. "She was at all the performances, and she would always chaperone, even though she didn't have a car. He was her whole life." Friends said Deborah smith was too distraught to talk Thursday. Smith began playing the viola in middle school, and he had to work hard to do well, Erickson said. "Some kids are naturally talented," Erickson said. "He wasn't one of the students who it came easy to. But he worked very hard at it." In his last year at Dr. Phillips, Smith won the orchestra award for the most improved senior musician, Erickson said. She wants to establish a memorial award in Smith's name for music students who display Smith's "dedication, perseverance and great love of music." Smith, who was stationed at Camp Pendleton in Southern California, returned home to visit about six weeks ago, just before he was sent to Iraq, Waters said. It was Smith's first deployment to Iraq. Like many recruits, Smith struggled at first in the military, Waters said. It was hard being away from home and difficult adjusting to the strict discipline and austere conditions. "He had the usual G.I. complaints," Waters said. But on his last visit home, it was clear Smith was flourishing, Waters said. "I saw a lot of maturing. He gained a great deal of confidence in the Marine Corps," Waters said. "I think he was looking at it as a career." Word of the young Marine's death was a bitter blow, Waters said. He has tried to think not of Smith's death, but of how lucky he was to know the young man. "You look at where he came from, and what he did," Waters said. "I was very proud of him." Antoine Smith counted you as a friend worthy of his sacrifice as well. Many other soldiers were wounded in the Fallujah operation - 22 of them from India Company. I am, at once, filled with pride and humbled by these volunteer citizen soldiers. How precious they render each act of our daily lives. Though I am too old in body to fight beside them so far away, I will fight each day to see that their sacrifices are cherished and that their honor will increase and that our memory of them will not fade. God bless our men and women who serve our country in the armed

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