This week’s America250 salute is Marine Corps Veteran Larry E. Smedley.
Larry E. Smedley was born in Front Royal, Virginia, but grew up in Union Park, Florida, just outside of Orlando. His family recalled that since childhood, he had wanted to join the military. In March 1966, Smedley dropped out of high school to join the Marine Corps. His mother tried to talk him out of it, as she recalled in a 2004 Orlando Sentinel article.
“He was so small, I didn’t think he could get through boot camp, but he did everything they threw at him, with a smile on his face,” she said.
After completing basic training with the 1st Recruit Training Battalion at Parris Island, South Carolina, Smedley underwent combat training at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. He then served with 1st Battalion as part of the 8th Marines, 2nd Marine Division based at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune. Smedley served as both a rifleman and fire team leader with Companies C and D. He promoted twice, first to private first class in September 1966 and then to lance corporal in January 1967.
In July 1967, Smedley deployed to Vietnam as part of Company D in the 1st Battalion, 7th Marines, 1st Marine Division. He worked as a rifle and squad radio man; as a radio man, he oversaw and maintained radio communications with other squadrons and battalions. While in Vietnam, Smedley promoted to corporal. Smedley’s squad was later based near the Happy Valley in Quang Nam Province. This valley was a crucial Viet Cong storage area and supply route, so the U.S. and South Vietnamese Army tried to disrupt or counter operations in the area frequently.
On Dec. 21, 1967, Smedley’s squad was on patrol in the valley when they observed a contingent of Viet Cong soldiers heading toward Hill 41 where Da Nang complex was located. Da Nang was a major center of operations for U.S. and South Vietnamese Army forces in the region. According to Smedley’s Medal of Honor citation, Smedley “[first] radioed for a reaction force, then skillfully maneuvered his men to a more advantageous position and led an attack on the numerically superior enemy force.” The responding enemy fire wounded Smedley in the foot, but he continued to lead a charge against the enemy machine-gun emplacement. Wounded a second time, he continued to fight and encourage his comrades to press on, until he received mortal wounds. Smedley passed away on Dec. 22. For his bravery during the battle, he posthumously received a Medal of Honor in 1969.
Smedley’s remains were brought back to the U.S., and he was buried at Arlington National Cemetery with full honors. His name is inscribed on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial wall on panel 32E line 040.
The National Vietnam Veterans War Museum in Florida was renamed the Corporal Larry E. Smedley National Vietnam War Museum in his honor. In 2004, fellow Marine Tony Johnson led a successful campaign to have a section of Interstate 4 renamed for his fallen comrade. Marine Corps League Detachment #64 based in Oviedo, Florida, is also named after him.
Smedley ended his service as a corporal. He received many awards for his service, including a Medal of Honor and Purple Heart
We honor his service.
VA is highlighting 250 Veterans leading up to July 4, 2026, which marks 250 years of independence. Learn more about the count down to 250 years of the American spirit at https://america250.org/.
Writer: Sarah Concepcion
Editors: Merrit Pope, Julia Pack
Researcher: Timothy Georgetti
Graphic Designer: Kiki Kelley