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SAN DIEGO

Vietnam-era Frogman receives Purple Heart

Story by Petty Officer 1st Class Anthony Walker 

Naval Special Warfare Center

CORONADO, Calif. (NNS) – For 51 years, Engineman 2nd Class (SEAL) Ray Smith Jr. has carried the memories of a mission in Vietnam on June 12, 1970. On October 7, 2021, Smith gained something new to remember his time serving on distant shores as a SEAL: a Purple Heart. Smith’s heroism and sacrifice were formally recognized in a ceremony at Naval Special Warfare (NSW) Center’s Basic Training Command (BTC) onboard Naval Base Coronado.
Capt. Bradley Geary, commanding officer, Basic Training Command, presented Smith with the Purple Heart award surrounded by Smith’s family and friends, on the same hallowed ground where Smith first earned the distinction of being a Special Warfare Operator. Also present was the next generation of Navy SEALs, candidates currently in the assessment and selection pathway at BTC, who gathered to recognize a moment in history in action.
During his remarks, Geary reminded the candidates in attendance of the importance of reflecting on their heritage and recognizing the sacrifices of their forbearers.
“Naval Special Warfare is built on the shoulders of those who came before us and displayed the courage, integrity and grit we work to instill in our candidates every day,” said Geary. “Those in attendance today are witness to an exemplar of these qualities. While Ray was convalescing from his injuries, he was separated from the Navy and his Purple Heart was forgotten in the process. Today, we rectify that discrepancy – in his record and Naval Special Warfare’s history – here on this grinder, where it matters most.”
Smith was appreciative of the recognition by NSW.
“I’m really overwhelmed by everything that NSW has done for me,” Smith said. “This is not just about me. This is about supporting all of the forgotten men and women from the Vietnam era. I’m just the fortunate one to have some closure.”
Smith, a native of Mt. Clemens, Michigan, enlisted in the Navy on September 6, 1968. Following his graduation from BUD/S, he reported to SEAL Team One and was quickly deployed to Vietnam. While inspecting a village for arms and food storage bunkers, Smith and his platoon came under heavy fire. During the subsequent fire fight, Smith was shot in the arm. The bullet travelled into his neck and passed through part of his carotid artery. Smith was medically evacuated and treated for his injuries, ultimately being sent to Balboa Hospital in San Diego for additional care. Smith was discharged from the Navy in 1970 and began a successful career as an engineer.
In addition to members of the NSW community and Smith’s family, the ceremony was also attended by Army Capt. John Leandro, the pilot responsible for evacuating Smith from the battlefield following his injuries.
The Purple Heart, one of the oldest and most recognized American military medals, is awarded to service members who were killed or wounded by enemy action. The award was created in 1782 by George Washington to encourage gallantry and fidelity among soldiers by formally recognizing meritorious action.

Naval Special Warfare Center, located on Naval Amphibious Base Coronado, provides initial assessment and selection and subsequent advanced training to the Sailors who make up the Navy’s SEAL and Special Boat communities. These communities support the NSW mission, providing maritime special operations forces to conduct full-spectrum operations, unilaterally or with partners, to support national objectives. For more information on the NSW pipeline, visit https://www.sealswcc.com/.