RICHLAND, Ga. (WRBL) – On Tuesday morning, a small crowd gathered in front of the house of Vietnam veteran John Smiley in Richland, Georgia. They were there to observe and celebrate Smiley, who is wheelchair bound, receiving a Rollx van from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Smiley’s daughter, Lawanda Martin, soon learned and announced that the van was still in Tampa, Florida, so attendees carried on with the planned ceremony.
Martin was the first to speak.
“In 1969, Specialist Smiley enlisted in the Air Force,” she said. “And he served faithfully three tours for the Vietnam War from 1969 to 1972 … Also, he had time enlisted with the National Guard, the Army National Guard. He came out with an honorable discharge in January 1979.”
Martin said that after his career in the military, Smiley studied welding at Georgia Southern College, after which he got hired by Cooper Lighting in Americus, Georgia. He worked there for 25 years.
Smiley had a stroke in 2017, which left him unable to speak. He received medical care from the Department of Veterans Affairs.
“And we thank you for the Veterans Affairs for the service that they give to our solders and give to our veterans,” Martin said.
“He’s a disabled veteran that needs the service of this van,” Martin said. “He goes to dialysis three days out the week.”
Martin recognized and honored the veterans in the audience.
Apostle Annie West delivered the invocation, and Equinta Starr sang the national anthem.
Rev. Margaret McCarthy of New Beginning Full Gospel Church said that Smiley had been a great mentor to young people in the community.
“We thank God for the service that he has done for our country and for this community,” she said.
Richland Mayor Kent Josey welcomed everyone present to Richland.
“I’m not going to say John Smiley because I never called him John Smiley,” he said. “He’s always been Smiley to me.”
Josey said he knew it was difficult for Smiley’s family to deal with the aftermath of his stroke.
“But somehow, in some way, God stepped in because he badly needed this transportation,” he said. “Through Veteran’s Affairs and the family’s hard work, they somehow got it done.”
Smileys’ son, Dante Smiley, is also a veteran. He served in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“My daddy served,” he said. “That’s why I served. And the VA benefits that he’s receiving? I’m happy.”
Martin said it was a full-time job for Willie Smiley, John Smiley’s wife, to take care of John. The two have been married for 48 years.
“They up in age at 71 and 73 years old, but they are here to still, you know, take care of each other,” Martin said. “Really, they’re all that they have. So he depend on her, and he depend on him.”
“I love Smiley,” Willie Smiley said. “He loves me. Sometimes, it gets hectic. But I still don’t mind doing what I have to do.”
Other speakers at the ceremony were Jemar Ridley of the Columbus Veteran Center, veterans advocate Harding Carr and Jemichael Manora, chief of safety and emergency management at Central Alabama Veterans Health Care System.
After the ceremony, visitors were treated to food and refreshments.