The Ticonderoga American Legion marked Veterans Day Nov. 11 with a ceremony at the town veterans monument in Bicentennial Park.
Charles “Gusher” Smith will forever be remembered for his service to the nation and his fellow veterans, which made his 91st birthday celebration special.
Smith, a World War II sailor and long-time veteran’s advocate, marked his special day Nov. 11 — Veterans Day.
“There aren’t a lot of us left,” Smith said of World War II veterans. “I’m just glad I’m still here.”
Smith’s still here — and still dedicated to telling the stories of American veterans. He joined a panel of veterans Nov. 10 to present a Veterans Day program at Ticonderoga Elementary School. He urged students to remember the sacrifices of veterans.
“Go down to the (Bicentennial) park and look at that monument,” Smith told students. “Look at all those names and see if you can find a relative. I’ll bet someone in your family has served.”
Smith prepared a 10-page memoir of his war experiences that was given to students.
Joining Smith on the panel were Iraq War veteran and Purple Heart recipient Roy Harper of Crown Point, Vietnam War veteran Tom Provoncha and Gulf War veteran Nancy Paquette.
Harper told students about being wounded June 7, 2004. A gunner in a humvee, he suffered wounds to his neck, aorta and hands when a roadside bomb exploded. He reminded students that American soldier do a lot more than fight.
“The media tells you the bad parts of war,” the soldier said. “They don’t tell you about the good things we do. I helped deliver school supplies, paper and pencils, to kids. We did a lot of good over there.”
Provoncha spent 26 years in the Air Force and Army. He’s been to 52 countries and circles the world 13 times. He asked students to consider a military career.
“I’ve seen a lot of things, been to places very few will ever get a chance to visit,” he said. “It’s probably the best thing that every happened to me.”
Provoncha told students how he joined the Air Force. He graduated from Ti High on a Saturday. The next morning his father asked about his future plans when Provoncha came to breakfast. Saying he had given the Air Force a passing thought, Provoncha’s father immediately picked up the phone and called an Air Force recruiter.
“Sunday night I had dinner in Texas,” Provoncha said, recalling his arrival at basic training.
Paquette worked as an accountant for the Army in Saudi Arabia during the Gulf War. She urged the girls at the program to consider the military, noting it offers many opportunities.
Provoncha agreed, pointing out there are hundreds of roles for people.
“We’ve had a lot of jobs,” Provoncha said. “The military needs cooks, dishwashers, infantry, pilots, you name it. We’re all veterans, we all served.”
Keith Barber, a retired Ti Elementary teacher and member of the Sons of the American Legion, organized the Veterans Day program. He also conducts student programs to mark the Pearl Harbor anniversary Dec. 7 and the battle of Midway in June. He also organizes a student trip to the Ticonderoga Veterans of Foreign Wars Post each spring, where students meet veterans and learn about military service.
“It’s important our students meet these people and learn about them,” Barber said.
The Veterans Day program ended with a birthday party for Smith. Students sang “Happy Birthday” and presented him with cards. They then shared cake with the veterans.