On Tuesday afternoon, we will once again pause to salute an American hero, gone too soon. The fifth serviceman killed by a deranged shooter in Chattanooga will be laid to rest. Once again, thousands will line the highways or attend the burial at Chattanooga National Cemetery. They will carry flags, and salute as the procession goes by. We know his name and rank: U.S. Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Randall Scott Smith. We know he was only 26-years-old. But if you’re like me, you want to know more.
We are honored that his family has chosen Chattanooga as his final resting place. He was part of our community for only a year. Last August, after re-enlisting, he was assigned to our Navy Operations Support Center, training and transporting active duty Navy personnel. He and his wife, Angie, had adopted Fort Oglethorpe as their home, raising three beautiful young daughters. He loved serving in the Navy, but had other dreams as well. He was on the Dean’s List in the online Hospital Administration program offered by San Diego-based Ashford University. He had his eye on the future. And then one Thursday morning, just another day, those dreams were shattered.
Randall grew up in Paulding, Ohio, and graduated from Paulding High in 2007. There, he was a star student and baseball player. His coach said Randall was awarded a baseball scholarship to Defiance (Ohio) College, not just for his athletic skills (he was a star pitcher and hitter) but also for academics. He was sidelined by a shoulder injury, and decided to join the Navy.
His training took him to Great Lakes, Illinois and Meridian, Mississippi, and he was eventually stationed in Norfolk, Va. from 2011 until last year. In Norfolk, he served on the USS Wasp, an amphibious assault ship. He must have been a star sailor too, because last week more than 400 sailors and friends boarded the vessel for a memorial service in his honor.
Here in the Chattanooga area, Randall and Angie enjoyed the outdoors with their little girls, Lyla, Eila and Kyla. Randall was indeed a fun dad, and as friends say, those children were his number-one priority. They’re so little, and yet that music will surely always be in their hearts. It has been said that Randall was proud to serve his country for many reasons, and the inspiration of his grandfather may have been at the top of the list.
The late Hiram Smith was a Korean War veteran, and he and his wife Catherin, also deceased, are listed in the obituary as Randall’s primary caregivers as he was growing up.
It’s too easy for those of us who report such tragic news, to give just the facts: the name, the age, the survivors. But it should be important to know who we will be saluting on Tuesday. He’s not just one of the “Fallen Five.” He was someone’s son, grandson, husband, brother and dad. He loved to cheer for the Duke Blue Devils, the Tennessee Titans, the Miami Hurricanes, and the Houston Astros. He helped victims of Hurricane Sandy rebuild their lives. He helped the Chattanooga Area Food Bank restock their shelves. He loved his brothers and sisters in the military, and helped protect them even while under fire on seemingly safe ground. He fought to his last breath, taken in a hospital bed some 40 hours after being attacked.
In the sad days since his passing, Randall Smith’s home has been under close watch, 24/7 by the dedicated officers of the Fort Oglethorpe Police Department. Neighbors have comforted his grieving family. A fund to support his children has been established at Capital Bank (PO Box 2146, Fort Oglethorpe, GA 30742). The four other servicemen will have been laid to rest by Tuesday afternoon, as we give one final salute to Randall Smith.
In a mere 26 years, the blink of an eye, he made his family proud, he served his country, he helped friends and strangers alike, and started his own beautiful family. No doubt, I haven’t even begun to list all his accomplishments, and we’ll never know the greatness he was capable of achieving. But I hope this story has helped you, as it has me, understand that we’re not just saluting a name, and a rank on Tuesday. We’re saluting a young family man who stepped up to serve our country, earning our respect, and our forever gratitude.
David Carroll is 5:00 and 6:00 anchor for Channel 3 Eyewitness News where he has been since 1987.