Family gathers to remember hero colonel

By Jonathan Delozier -

A new display at the Spirit of ‘76 Museum led to a de facto reunion on Veterans Day for a local military family.

Col. Weston “Ted” Smith, a 1953 Wellington High School graduate who received multiple medals for bravery in the Vietnam War, is the subject of the exhibit — complete with a life-size cutout, family pictures, and copies of presidential citations.

Thirteen family members converged Saturday on the Spirit of ‘76 Museum, including Smith’s son, Brian, a U.S. Army warrant officer stationed in Fort Carson, Colo., who’s served two tours of duty in Afghanistan.

It was only recently that Al Leiby and the museum put out a request for information regarding area veterans,” Brian said. “I’ve been told my dad ranks among the most decorated Vietnam vets out of Wellington. We provided some pictures but I had no idea something this massive would come out of it. So much effort has been put into this and Al’s done some tremendous research.”

Leiby also fit into the family reunion as the colonel’s nephew. He and Spirit of ‘76 director Scott Markel have been updating military displays on the museum’s top floor for the past six months.

“I remember going out to Bowling Green as a youngster to see him,” said Leiby. “When I was in the Army in Germany in the 70s, he was still active military. Me being in this position now and him being such a decorated veteran gave us the opportunity to do something really neat here.”

As a forward air controller and air liaison officer in Vietnam, Col. Smith was tasked with spotting downed vehicles and soldiers in danger then forwarding the information to air rescue. His unit was also often asked to draw enemy fire during rescue operations.

Over the coarse of the war, he was involved in 664 combat missions.

Smith was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and Bronze Oak Leaf Cluster for a dangerous missions completed in September and October 1968. According to presidential citations, Smith kept his helicopter hovering over an area while under heavy fire in order to complete a rescue on Sept. 10, 1968.

On Oct. 18, 1968, Smith helped rescue a unit of soldiers that was outnumbered and surrounded near Ban Me Thuot, a city in the central highlands of Vietnam.

While assigned to the 21st Tactical Air Support Squadron in 1969, Smith earned the nation’s second highest award for bravery, the Air Force Cross.

On Feb. 24 and 25, 1969, Smith’s helicopter was hit by enemy fire while directing air support in a mission to defend a friendly structure.

A presidential citation for that instance read, “With complete disregard for his own life, he saved the lives of many American and allied soldiers and prevented the strategically located friendly position from being overrun. Through his extraordinary heroism, superb airmanship, and aggressiveness in the face of hostile forces, (the then) Major Smith reflected the highest credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.”

Later career highlights for Smith include appointment to the Joint Chiefs of Staff in 1981 and being one of 19 defense exchange officers assigned to the U.S. Department of State in 1983.

In 1987, Smith was involved in state department negotiations for the release of hostages in the Middle East.

On Dec. 20, 1990, Smith died of a stroke at age 55.

Other career accolades include the Bronze Star, the Air Medal with 10 Oak Leaf Clusters, the Defense Meritorious Service Medal, the Meritorious Service Medal with three Oak Leaf Clusters, and the Air Force Commendation Medal.

“The family and I were traveling through Kansas but knew we had to come to Wellington after hearing about this,” said Brian. “It’s great to see the family but all of this is a great added bonus. This is everything. My mother isn’t in traveling shape anymore, so for me to get as much video and pictures as possible is vital. I want to courier this back to her. I’m sure she’ll be willing to add some more history and help enhance the display.”

Jonathan Delozier can be reached at 440-647-3171 or @DelozierNews on Twitter.

By Jonathan Delozier