Roy Exum: Today We Salute Our Soldier

Thursday, July 4, 2013 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum


I am an American Soldier.

I am a warrior and a member of a team.

I serve the people of the United States, and live the Army Values.

I will always place the mission first.

I will never accept defeat.

I will never quit.

I will never leave a fallen comrade.

I am disciplined, physically and mentally tough, trained and proficient in my warrior tasks and drills.

I always maintain my arms, my equipment and myself.

I am an expert and I am a professional.

I stand ready to deploy, engage, and destroy, the enemies of the United States of America in close combat.

I am a guardian of freedom and the American way of life.

I am an American Soldier.

-- Compliments of the U.S. Army 

* * *

And, so, today in tiny Apison, Tn., what is expected to be a huge crowd will defy heavy rains, muddy shoes and the toughest emotion for any of us to ever understand – gratitude. Yet we will try to thank and salute an American Soldier named Andrew Smith, a warrior, a member of the team, who has never given up, never accepted defeat, and never quit after an Afghanistan bomb may well have dented his life, but has hardly his soul.

The ceremony, scheduled to begin at 11 a.m., will be among the most wonderful in our region’s history. For the last seven days and throughout each night, a team of over 1,000 volunteers and “at least 50 different companies” has completely built and immaculately finished a 3,000-square foot house nestled on four acres so that “we, the people” can present Andrew and his pretty wife, Tori, their richly-deserved piece of America.

Oh, Andrew paid dearly for it, the loss of both legs, easy to see while the anguish and pain and heartbreak, are only to be imagined. But not once has he ever complained, has he ever greeted a set-back without his firm-set jaw, and he has exhibited instead an unwavering faith in Jesus Christ that leaves a common man in awe.

Mark Wilson, who went to Walter Reed National Medical Hospital in Washington to visit with the ravaged Smiths, created a “Steps 2 Hope” Foundation and told them he and a huge crowd of friends wanted to build them a house. “Well, we all had a pretty good cry,” he admitted, “and then I asked them what kind of house they might like. Andrew told me they wanted a place where they could shoot a gun off the back porch and not hurt anyone. That’s what we came up with!”

Actually, Andrew – still an enlisted soldier – is in the middle of his medical boards and probably will not be discharged until the Army deems him totally fit and capable. “Tori and I both want to get our master's degrees (they both graduated from Lee University where they fell in love) but we plan to live in this house the rest of our lives.”

No amount of rain will ever diminish the glow of the house, up the long driveway located off Bill Jones Road, nor will the weather dampen the spirits of the men and women, boys and girls, who have given so unselfishly of time and sweat in the past week for “our Wounded Warrior.” The whole house is designed to meet Andrew’s special needs yet it is aesthetically stunning as well.

Better still, Andrew and his extended family were duly sent away from the house last weekend to enhance what they will behold when he and Tori are presented the keys – free-and-clear -- to its front door today. General B.B. Bell, the XO on Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf’s staff during the Persian Gulf War, will be the Independence Day speaker at the ceremony, as well he should.

“We had to pour the main slab early – it takes 21 days to cure – and one night a couple of weeks before we launched the build, I came out to see if everything was alright,” said Wilson. “But there was a pickup truck, with its lights on, slowly circling the concrete slab and. Alarmed, I hurriedly drove up to see who was trespassing. That’s when Gen. Bell rolled his window down and yelled, ‘I think this is going to do just fine!’” the organizer laughed.

“General Bell has worked a lot on the construction part, too … he knows the price of freedom, of our Independence,” Wilson said, “so this house – this mission -- means as much to him, in a deep and personal way, as it does to any of the rest of us.”

There will be parades and concerts and parties all across America as this nation celebrates its independence, as well as its freedoms but, in tiny Apison, there will be one further display -- living proof of “America, The Beautiful.”

DIRECTIONS – The public is invited to attend today’s ceremony and officials are asking patriots – especially veterans – to arrive 30 minutes early due to anticipated traffic congestion. Go east on East Brainerd Road, going straight at the Ooltewah-Ringgold Road intersection. Take the left fork at the Apison city limits (staying on East Brainerd Road) and proceed past Apison Elementary School. Turn right on Bob Jones Road. (Tip: Bring Kleenex – gratitude can be very emotional, particularly on Independence Day.)

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