Nathan Smith is a national treasure

Published 4:14 pm Tuesday, June 10, 2014

By CHRIS GEORGE / Guest Columnist

There are times in your life when you cross paths with a person that you have no idea how they may impact you. I make a point to speak to as many people as I can and hope that our conversation is more than just a simple, “Hello.”

A couple of months ago, I visited Good Hope United Methodist Church and met with church members and others in and around the community. Little did I know that one lunch would introduce me to a true living legend. This gentleman is the type of person you read about in a book or a story on the History Channel.

Nathan Smith lives in Columbiana and shares a bond with me that only a few do. Nathan Smith is a Marine. He is likely the most impressive Marine I’ve met in a long time. Nearly 70 years ago, he stormed the beaches of the Marshall Islands, Saipan, Tinian and Iwo Jima.

To survive the first three landings was a feat itself, but Iwo Jima is the bloodiest battle in Marine Corps history. 6,140 Marines were killed on this island whose name translates to “Sulfur Island.” It was an island made of soot and ash that we had to conquer in order to get closer to Japan.

During the time he was on Iwo Jima, he received a battlefield promotion to platoon commander only because no one was left. They were all either injured or dead. On the third day, during the Battle of Iwo Jima, Nathan was shot in the leg and sought cover in a cave.

As he told me, “The Japanese weren’t on Iwo Jima, they were in it.” His concern was that they would come out from the cave, torture him and then kill him. It didn’t happen. While he lay in the hole, the pain began to worsen in his leg and he recognized the loss of blood was potentially lethal, so he used his belt to make a tourniquet. He was eventually rescued by other Marines on a tank. As this most recent Memorial Day approached, I knew I wanted Nathan to accompany me to the National Cemetery for the wreath laying ceremony.

The three hours we spent together had an impact on me that I will always cherish. The day was hot and the sun was bright as we looked over the field where so many were already laid to rest. As we sat through the program, Nathan stood when appropriate, sat with his back straight, head straight ahead and hands on his knees: Also known as a seated position of attention that he was likely taught in boot camp. Not only is Nathan Smith a Marine’s Marine, he portrays himself as a gentleman, Biblical scholar and I have no doubt a man after God’s heart.

I asked him about his health and how he felt overall. He said that although he was ready to die, he didn’t think he would because the Word of God was alive in him. United States Marine Sgt. Nathan Smith is what legends are made of. He will live in my heart as well and he will never die. Semper fi.

Chris George is the commander of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office Criminal Investigations Division.