Vietnam veteran finds final stop in Waitsburg

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WAITSBURG -- Vietnam veteran Joel Dean Smith was given a final resting place Monday morning in the Waitsburg City Cemetery.

Smith lost both legs to the hip as the result of injuries sustained in 1970 when a booby trap exploded while he was on patrol in Vietnam. He was just short of his 22nd birthday.

For the next 20 years, until his death on May 31, 1990, Smith lived as normal a life as possible. He pursued his love of fishing and hunting, farmed, was employed as a sheet metal worker, married, and drove a car with hand controls.

Smith was a graduate of Sealth High School in Seattle, and frequently visited his grandparents in Waitsburg.

In a letter, his widow Boneita Smith said it took her 20 years to decide where to bury Smith.

"Waitsburg welcomed him home in 1970. He loved this place. His grandparents lived next to the park in Waitsburg. He told me wonderful tales of summer tine, days of Real Sport, shoveling out underneath his grandparents' house following a flood, hunting the fields for game birds, picking morel mushrooms," she wrote.

"Those memories that he relayed to me allowed me to finally figure out will Joel could really rest in peace," Boneita Smith said.

"I will always feel grateful to the Waitsburg community for their prayers while he lay wounded in Vietnam struggling to live and the welcome home he received here, and grateful to the Walla Walla community that embraced us as small farmers during the '70s and '80s and accorded Joel respect and dignity," she wrote.

Although Smith was awarded the Bronze Star, the Air Medal with two Oak Leaf Clusters and the Purple Heart, his widow's desire that his name be added to the Washington state Vietnam War Memorial has eluded her thus far.

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