James R. Smith enlisted in the US Navy in 1966 and served 4 years during the height of the Vietnam War. One tour of duty was aboard the USS England and two tours were as a special ops force member of the Brown Water Navy, Riverines, or sometimes informally called “River Rats.” Patrol Boats, River (PBR) crews navigated the rivers and canals of South Vietnam, which were major routes of transportation for people and commerce/trade, much like our interstate system. PBRs were small, but built for speed. They were equipped with powerful diesel engines to quickly enter or exit an area. On patrol, these sailors searched villages and small primitive boats (sampans or junks) for contraband such as weapons, ammo, or medical supplies. Petty Officer Smith was the gunner on twin 50 caliber machine guns on the bow (front) of his boat. During one of his more than 240 combat patrols, he set up a machine gun firing position on the river bank to repel a large group of approaching enemy troops and received a Navy Commendation Medal for courage under fire. He was also awarded a Purple Heart for shrapnel sustained in battle. James used the GI Bill to become a Radiologic Technologist after his honorable discharge. Upon graduation, he returned to his hometown of Stilwell, Oklahoma to became the Chief Technologist in the Radiology Department at Stilwell Hospital. That is where he met his future wife Betty, to whom he was married for 46 years until his death in August 2020 They have two sons : Matthew (Leslie) and Aaron (Kim), grandson Gavin, and granddaughter Emma.
Tahlequah Proudly honors James Smith who served as a GM3 in the United States Navy.