Charles “Gusher” Smith celebrated his 93rd birthday at a Veterans Day program at Ticonderoga Elementary School. From left are veterans Nancy Paquette, Smith, Mike Arthur, Tom Provoncha and Craig Cassidy.
Charles “Gusher” Smith has proudly served for decades.
A World War II veteran, Smith has long been a civic leader in Ticonderoga — perhaps best known for his work with fellow vets and his years as the local scoutmaster.
“He’s an important fixture in our community,” Keith Barber said. “As a World War II veteran, a scoutmaster and an active community member Gusher has long served Ticonderoga.”
Smith was honored along with other veterans during a Veterans Day program at Ticonderoga Elementary School. Veterans Day, Nov. 11, just happens to be Smith’s 93rd birthday.
“I’m getting old,” Smith told Ti students, “but I can tell you Veterans Day is important. You need to know what has been done so you can live in freedom.”
The Ticonderoga Elementary School program included a panel presentation by local veterans to fifth grade classes. Sponsored by the Ti Sons of The American Legion and the school, the program also included a video.
Capping the event was a birthday cake for Smith, who was given handmade cards by the students.
“Gusher is a real treasure,” said Barber, a retired Ti teacher who organized the program for the Sons of the American Legion. “Our World War II vets are fast becoming a rarity.”
Assisting with the program were Principal John Donohue and fifth grade teachers Shelly Young and Kathy Moore.
The veterans panel included Smith, a Navy vet; Nancy Paquette, an Air Force vet who served in Saudi Arabia during Operation Desert Storm; Mike Porter, a Navy veteran of 22 years; Tom Provoncha, who served in both the Air Force and Army for a combined 26 years; and Craig Cassidy, a Vietnam era Army veteran.
“This is a wonderful program,” Young said. “I think the veterans enjoy it. I know the kids do, as well.”
Paquette spent 20 years as an administrative assistant in the Air Force. She told students military life can be rewarding.
“It was a really great experience,” Paquette said. “I enjoyed my 20 years. I’ve never regretted a moment of it.”
Arthur spent 22 years in the Navy as a cook. At his retirement he was serving aboard the USS Ticonderoga. During his career he visited all seven continents.
“The Navy provided me with so many opportunities,” Arthur said. “How many people can say they’ve been to all seven continents? I can. The Navy really gives people a chance to develop their assets.”
Provoncha has also been to all seven continents, as well as 52 countries. He has circled the world 13 times as an Air Force air combat crewman and then as an Army infantryman. The military is a great career, he told students.
“There are a lot of things that go into making a soldier that people don’t think about,” Provoncha said. “The military needs all kinds for people, all kinds of skills.
“There’s nothing in the military you can’t do,” he said. “Anything you can do in civilian life you can do in the military.”
Cassidy went into the Army as a private and eventually became an officer. He recalled growing up the Port Kent area.
“I could hunt, fish, swim, do anything and I never had to worry about someone dropping a bomb,” he said. “I could do that because of the servicemen at the Plattsburgh Air Force Base and around the world. I decided I wanted to do that.
“In the military it’s our job to keep the bad guys out so you can have a good 18 years to grow up,” Cassidy added. “Then you can return the favor.”
The Ticonderoga Sons of the American Legion sponsor a number of veterans and patriotic-related events at Ti Elementary School. Besides the Veterans Day program, the sons offer students presentations on Pearl Harbor, World War II in Europe and World War II in the Pacific.
The Sons of the American Legion also sponsor a school-wide patriotism essay contest each spring. Winners receive cash awards and certificates. All participants receive free ice cream courtesy of Stewarts.