By Betty Gandee
A 10-year-old little girl on a school trip runs her hand across a name on the Vietnam Memorial Wall in Washington D.C., and remembers as her Poppy, Greg White, tells her to look for the name of Wilber Allen Smith.
Not ever meeting the man, whose name was engraved there alongside tens of thousands of other fallen soldiers, she knew he meant a great deal to her family, and this was a moment she would never forget.
On that day Greg White had told his granddaughter Lanney Robbins to look for the name, as he was a fallen family member, who like many others, paid the ultimate sacrifice for his country. In that moment White knew something needed to be done in remembrance of Al, as he was called by family and friends. He recruited the help of Smith’s sisters, Shelba Smith and Shella Jarrett, and proceeded to contact the proper chains of government to request Queen Shoals bridge in Clay County, where Allen was born and raised, be renamed the U.S. Army SP4 Wilbur Allen Smith Memorial Bridge.
Wilbur Allen Smith, known throughout his life as “Al,” was born to Wilbur Amos Smith and Mary Eloise Rogers on January 8, 1948, in Madison, West Virginia, and he grew up in Clay County on Camp Creek Hill at Bomont. He attended Clay County schools, graduated from Clay County High School in 1965, and was a member of the National Honor Society. He also attended Glenville State College for two and one-half years with a goal of becoming a biology teacher. Smith was inducted in the U. S. Army in 1968, and after training at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and Fort Polk, Louisiana, he was sent to serve in Vietnam, beginning in October 1968. He served in the First Cavalry Division (Airmobile), an infantry division converted into a new kind of fighting force known as an air assault division for its extensive use of the mobility of helicopters, where he attained the rank of Specialist 4.
On June 2, 1969, two companies of SP4 Wilbur Allen Smith’s division encountered a large number of enemy soldiers in fortified bunkers along the Dong Nai River. What followed was an intense firefight resulting in more than 55 casualties. During the battle SP4 Wilbur Allen Smith volunteered to neutralize one of the bunkers, and he maneuvered to within 15 feet of the enemy’s position. Tragically, he was killed by the explosion of an enemy rocket grenade.
SP4 Wilbur Allen Smith was laid to rest in the Smith Family Cemetery on Camp Creek Hill near Bomont, and he is survived by two sisters and a large extended family who remember his life and spirit with great sentiment. It is fitting that an enduring memorial be established to commemorate U. S. Army SP4 Wilbur Allen Smith and his contributions to our state and country. Therefore, the Division of Highways named former bridge #08A003 (Queen Shoals Bridge) U.S. Army SP4 Wilbur Allen Smith Memorial Bridge.
The Ceremony for the bridge dedication and life of Wilber Allen Smith was held in Clendenin at the Clendenin Advent Christian Fellowship Hall on Saturday, June 8, where several family members spoke about his life and memories that they hold dear to their hearts. Songs were played by Independent State music group, pictures shared, and the love that this family had in their hearts for this solider could be felt by everyone in the room. To sisters Shelba and Stella, their brothers was their hero, always humble, kind, and willing to do whatever was asked of him.
Hundreds were in attendance as Congressman Alex Mooney’s District Representative, Susie Azevedo, presented the two sisters with flags that were flown over the WV state capital on June 2, 2019 marking the 50th year of fallen solider, Smith. Replicas of the sign that will hang at the newly named bridge at Queen Sholas were also presented to the family. The flag that draped the coffin of Smith was used in the ceremony as he was given full military salute and the flag folded and presented to Stella and Shelba.
“All gave some, some gave all.” Never to be forgotten and a touching tribute to remind all of us that our freedom is never really free.