A Marine color guard member ceremoniously presents an American Flag to Kathy Templeton during interment ceremonies held May 233 in honor of her father Wayne Smith, a Marine Staff Sergeant who died about seven years ago.
After a volley of shots was fired into the air by a military honor guard, Thurman resident Kathy Templeton took a box containing her father’s ashes and solemnly placed them in a memorial wall located in the Gerald Solomon Saratoga National Cemetery.
Moments beforehand, a group of four Marines from Massachusetts, in full formal uniforms, had unfolded an American flag, held it aloft, and refolded it — all in crisp ceremonial motions. Then one of the Marines knelt in front of Templeton, presenting the flag to her for posterity — while tears welled up in Templeton’s eyes.
Her father, U.S. Marine Staff Sergeant Wayne B. Smith of Johnsburg, had received full military honors in the memorial ceremony. It was conducted by Warrensburg American Legion Post 446 Adjutant Gene Pierce, who is also commander of the Warren County American Legion. The service was attended by about a dozen members of the Saratoga National Cemetery Honor Guard.
As cemetery workers sealed off the interment compartment with a stone door to be engraved with his name, Templeton reflected on this formal ceremony, which she had sought for years on behalf of her father.
“I feel complete relief that he’s finally at rest and he got the recognition that he so deserved,” she said.
Pierce, his Legion Post and a Warren County veterans’ official made it happen, resolving an unfortunate situation.
Circumstances, including an unsettled estate, lack of a will and depleted family finances had combined to impose obstacles that appeared to prevent Smith from obtaining the interment and full military honors which he deserved.
Pierce had heard several months ago that Templeton needed help in preventing Smith’s ashes from being tossed into a common grave, without appropriate recognition. He discussed the situation with the officers of his Legion post as well as Denise DiResta, director of Warren County Veterans Services.
Pierce and DiResta contacted the Marine Corps in Washington D.C., obtained Smith’s Smith’s meritorious record, and Marine Corps officials arranged for interment in the National Cemetery, and for the Marine honor guard to participate in the services. Pierce also negotiated for his ashes to be released.
While Templeton praised Pierce, his Legion Post, area funeral director John Alexander and DiResta for their combined efforts, Pierce said he and others accomplished what they did as a matter of duty to a fellow soldier who deserved the honors.
“Wayne Smith served a total of 10 years in the Marines — including three tours in Vietnam in four years — and we’re glad that now his grandkids can be really proud of his service,” Pierce said.
Wayne B. Smith was born in Bakers Mills, on his family’s farm in 1946. Smith enlisted in the U.S. Marines in January 1964, serving until June 1970. He re-enlisted in the Marines in November 1973, serving until late December 1977, incurring wounds along the way. When he returned to northern Warren County, he worked various construction jobs, including building ski lifts at Gore Mountain. He also worked at various mills in the region. Smith retired around 2000, and spent later years concentrating on hobbies including collecting gems and gardening.
But his passion was outdoor sports including fishing and hunting, said Templeton as well as Smith’s best friend Joey Helms Sr., who also served in Vietnam. Helms worked construction jobs with Smith, and the two enjoyed fishing trips together.
“Wayne could out-work two men,” Helms recalled. “Wayne was fun to be around — he was a great all-around guy.”
U.S. Navy Commander Paul Maroun drove hours from Tupper Lake to Smith’s memorial service May 23 to pay respects on behalf of state Sen. Betty Little and other area legislators. As the ceremony concluded, he shared his thoughts on why he felt it was so important for him to attend.
“We want to honor our brothers and sisters who have fought in places others wouldn’t want to go, doing things we wouldn’t want to do,” Maroun said.
(Note: Kathy Templeton is the Thurman correspondent for the Adirondack Journal.)