Roy Exum: Honor The 'Real' Hero

Wednesday, June 27, 2018 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

I had promised Cathy Smith that I would write a story on an amazing athlete who today runs marathons after losing his legs in Afghanistan. And don’t fret, I promise you’ll meet Cedric King before the Fifth Annual “American Heroes Dinner” which will be held at the Chattanooga Convention Center on Friday, July 13th. But today I want to write of a greater hero. Her name is Cathy Smith and, distinctively, she’s just “a mom.”

On March 8, 2012, her son Andrew, a graduate of Chattanooga Christian, was on his first patrol in Afghanistan with the 82nd Airborne when he was very nearly blown away by an improvised explosive device (IED). His legs gone and his abdomen so mangled it took 40 surgeries just to give him a chance, Cathy and her husband Todd never once lost their faith, which yielded their dauntless hope.

Only by the grace of God, Andrew spent the next two years in Walter Reid Military Hospital in Bethesda, Md, with his mom tested to her very core – are you kidding me?  Several weeks before Andrew deployed, he hit the lottery when he married Tori. Someday I am hoping to get Tori to tell me about her stunning mother-in-law – rising to the occasion day after day at her son’s bedside – but, not yet, I still get too emotional over valor, be it a soldier’s or a mother’s.

I know what happened … oh, yes I do. I know more than you can believe. And I know that in the six years that have followed the sound of that explosion Cathy and her family have helped hundreds of severely-wounded American soldiers to once again stand tall through their “Share The Sacrifice Foundation.” A dozen or so amputees who banded as brothers during those years at Walter Reid will return to this year’s banquet in what has become a reunion of sorts for the delightful soldiers and, most fittingly, they will act as table hosts. I pray to God you get to sit next to one.

“The banquet and a golf tournament are our only fund-raisers so we are thrilled this year’s dinner will be our biggest ever,” Cathy said, having no idea I was taking notes on her. “The size of the crowd doesn’t mean as much to me as these guys knowing so many people really care about them.

“When Andrew came home and people from all over the country came to build his house, I think I cried more that week than I did at Walter Reid. The ‘electricity in the air’ was unbelievable – no one in my family will ever be the same – so when these guys come to Chattanooga for the banquet, it is a bigger adrenalin rush for each of them than they could ever imagine.

“That’s what is more special than anything else. These guys know we really care.”

Cathy said there are some severely injured soldiers that we can’t see who will be here. “There is one guy who was hit by a sniper. His helmet saved him but the raw force of the projectile left him with a brain injury. There are others whose wounds are not easy to see but each of them can see and ‘feel’ everybody at the banquet really cares about them. I have no words to tell you what that means to these guys.”

Since Andrew came home, I have been around him enough to see he has no shame or regrets. The IED may have wrecked his life but, pilgrim, it cannot – nor will it ever – touch his soul. There is no way for me to describe what a rewarding experience it is for Andrew to drive somewhere in North Carolina … get out of his pickup truck on those pegs of his, and with a grip and a grin say, “Heard your counter tops need to be lower for your ‘chair’ … I got a team of carpenters meeting me here in a few minutes and we’re starting today. Listen, pal, an entire city picked me up when I was down and all I am doing is just ‘playing it forward’ … Ho oh, here they come! ….and, look, they have a bunch of hardwood flooring you can handle downstairs much easier than the rugs in your wheelchair…”

Trust me, this happens at least once a week. Yes, Andrew loves it but you know who very quietly loves far more? Todd and Candy Smith will never forget the two years with their son at Walter Reid. So many times they would sit with those who shared neither the faith nor hope they did. Now they have done something about it. Andrew Smith today plays a great game of golf but his momma and daddy have turned his every scar into a heaven-blessed star. He’s the one who is most thankful for that, although I think my personal gratitude on behalf of the human race is a darned-close second.

Look at him with his shirt off, the explosion still visible, and then look at the hundreds of guys, regardless of faith, where Andrew has been able to plant a hope they could never have found anywhere else but at “Andrew’s Dinner” in Chattanooga. Andrew’s a hero. No question.

Todd Smith flees from any recognition so … what … that leaves Cathy. The Smith family has never been paid as much as a penny for administering the foundation but no financial institution could handle the rewards they have reaped. To obtain tickets for the July 13 dinner kindly contact or call 423-910-9129.

That night, please thank a soldier’s mother for what she has done to honor her warrior. His life shattered, Cathy Smith put piece-by-piece back in a way to rival the world’s greatest stained-glass window. I know. I watched it happen. To some, Catgy Smith is just Andrew’s mom … but the stark reality is, my God, what a momma bear!

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