By Brandon Martin
Two local World War II veterans were honored in a Veteran’s Day ceremony held Nov. 11 at the Martinsville City Public Schools Administration Building.
Houston Smith, who served as a waist gunner in the European Theatre of WWII; and Richard Stine, who provided weather forecasting in the Pacific Theatre, were the guests of honor for the event.
Smith’s son, Hugh, shared a humorous moment from his father’s time in gunnery school.
“They were up in the air and he was manning the gun,” Hugh Smith said. “There was another plane pulling the target. The instructor is standing over him and the target is way above their plane so he’s having to lay down on his belly and get as low as he could to get the gun pointed up at the target.”
As Houston Smith was attempting to line up his sights, “the instructor went and put his boot right on top of his back.”
Hugh Smith said his father didn’t take too well to the gesture, prompting a surprising action.
“It made him so mad that he went and started aiming at the rope that was pulling the target,” Hugh Smith said. “Sure enough, the target started trickling down to the sea. After that, the instructor never put his boot on him again.”
Houston Smith said that the “target is now floating in the Caribbean somewhere.”
Lethia Hammond, niece to Houston Smith, made the trip from Botetourt County to honor her uncle.
“Uncle Houston was 17-years-old and was working as an apprentice in the naval shipyards and Pearl Harbor was attacked,” she said. “It wasn’t long before he volunteered for the war effort and he was inducted. Soon after that, he was flying B-52 Bombers. I can’t help but wonder what it was like for a 17-year-old boy, from Shenandoah, Virginia to all of a sudden be piloting bombers and gunning down enemy planes.”
During many conversations with her uncle, Hammond said she gained the utmost respect for servicemen, especially those that fought in World War II.
“We talked about how bleak things looked for him and his comrades during the war,” Hammond said. “The fact that American servicemen did whatever was necessary to protect our freedom and our allied countrymen. I want you to know Uncle Houston that I wouldn’t have missed this day for the world because without you and your fellow servicemen, my world would be a lot darker.”
Stine looked back at his decision to fight the good fight, thankful for the path that he had chosen.
“My father wanted me to join something like the Weather Service, so I wouldn’t get shot at,” Stine said. “He was a smart man.”
Even after seeing some of the worst horrors brought about in warfare, Stine considers himself to be lucky.
“I’m very happy to have been in this world ever,” he said. “I just enjoy it and I don’t plan to leave anytime soon.”
Wendy Embree, Stine’s daughter, offered gratitude to all veterans.
“Our family is very proud of our dad and all of the other World War II veterans,” Embree said. “They are some of the last of the greatest generation and they are definitely an inspiration to all of us. On behalf of our family, I’d like to thank all of the veterans who have served our country. We are indebted to you.”
In addition to Houston Smith and Stine, two other local World War II veterans were also in attendance for the ceremony – Ed Linker and John McCain II.
Representatives from federal, state and local governments also were on hand to honor service members.
“Today we come together to pay homage to our veterans. It is a day that we respectfully stand united for you, our veterans,” said Martinsville Mayor Kathy Lawson.
She noted that treatment of veterans hasn’t always been the best.
“There is a time in our country’s history that our veterans were grossly disrespected,” Lawson said. “I hope those days are far gone and, each day, respect is given to all of our veterans. It is the sacrifices that all of our veterans have made over the years that have allowed us to enjoy the personal freedoms that we have. It is with heartfelt thanks that we salute you today for your service to our country.”
State Sen. Bill Stanley, R-Moneta, said “some people came home when their friends did not and they have lived with that memory and the burden that came with it every day. Some came home, after seeing combat, and could never speak of it, but did so willingly because there was a higher calling – that call of freedom. They made those sacrifices of their time, and the time away from their families, so that again, we’d understand not only what freedom is but that it would not perish from this good earth.”
For Stanley, a simple thank you once a year isn’t enough to repay the debt owed to veterans.
“We must thank every veteran in our families, in our neighborhoods and in our churches for what they have done for us every day,” Stanley said. “Even though their service in the military may be over, what they did that allows us to continue to enjoy the lives that we lead. Let every day be Veteran’s Day. Let every moment and opportunity, when you encounter a veteran, be met with your words that say ‘thank you for keeping us free.’”
Ninth District U.S. Rep. Morgan Griffith, R-Salem, said the recognition is not only deserved, but also earned.
“That’s what Veteran’s Day is all about. The service of men and women who understand, whether they are flying in an airplane or they are going on the ground in hostile territory to supply the soldiers, or make the weather forecast to make sure our troops know when it’s right to hit. They are putting their lives on the line, day in and day out, so that we can have that freedom,” he said.
“They did it in World War I. They did it in World War II. They’ve done it in Korea, Vietnam, the Middle East and in all kinds of conflicts throughout our history,” he said. “Today we honor them and I thank God for their service. May God continue to bless you and may God continue to bless the United States.”
After members of the Martinsville-Henry County Veterans Honor Guard folded the national ensign, Griffith presented the flags to both Houston Smith and Stine.
Gray Givens, band instructor at Martinsville Middle School, performed “The Star Spangled Banner” and “Taps.”