Family and friends remember Stefan Smith in memorial service
Saturday’s memorial service for fallen soldier Stefan Smith was an emotional one, as friends and family shared treasured memories of the hero.
Clay Bryant, who had known Smith since he was on a wrestling team with his son in sixth grade, orchestrated the ceremony, as Patriot Guards surrounded the Smith family, who were seated under a tent on Lafayette Square.
“Even though he wasn’t with us but 24 years, the journey that he took – sometimes I wonder at nearly 60, had I gotten that far,” said Bryant. “But I can tell you this, he had. His journey was so short in time, but great in what he had accomplished.”
To begin the ceremony, officer Ray Ham of the LaGrange Police Department sang “Amazing Grace.”
Smith’s pastor of five years, the Rev. Jeff Watts of Turnaround Christian Center talked of how Smith was a competitor and wanted to be the best at whatever he got involved with, while highlighting Smith’s positive energy.
“The thing that really stands out is his rosy cheeks,” said Watts, evoking laughter from the crowd. “And he would always have a smile. I can’t remember ever seeing him sad. My memories of him was always smiling and happy. I thank God for the opportunity that we had to spend those years with Stefan to share the word of God with him.”
Turnaround Christian Center youth pastor Pat Gallston worked closely with Smith and said that she is thankful for Smith’s service and that he laid down his life for us as she shared a scripture from John 15:12-13.
“’This is my commandment, that you love one another, as I have loved you. Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends,’” read Gallston. “You may not had even known Stefan, but guess what? You’re his friends. Because he laid down his life for each and every one of us. No greater love than that.”
Smith spent four years on the LaGrange High wrestling team, where he worked closely with Coach Scooter Weathers, who also planned the memorial service.
Weathers bragged about Smith being one of the best captains he has had at LaGrange High and how Smith would help him discipline some of the other wrestlers who were having problems. Smith gave 100 percent in all of his matches and was almost at a perfect season his senior year, said Weathers.
“We’ve only had one (perfect season) ever, but we’ve had three since I’ve been here finish 50-something in one, and he’s one of them,” said Weathers.
Smith had such a huge influence on the wrestlers that many of them had told Weathers, “I want to be like Stefan.” Weathers also admired how Smith excelled at being a man, husband and father aside from wrestling, a goal that Weathers strives to teach his wrestlers.
“In my eyes he’ll always be perfect to me,” said Weathers. “I’m a better man because I coached him. I’m a better man because I knew him.”
Before joining the Army, Smith worked for the Glennville Police Department and his supervisor Lt. Wes Kicklighter was not surprised at Smith’s decision.
“When Stefan came and sat in my office and told me he was going to the Army it was no surprise to me,” Kicklighter wrote in a letter read by Bryant. “I knew he was going to be a great leader and a great soldier. I knew he could do great things with the mind and the heart that he had. He was following in his father’s footsteps and I am proud of him. Stefan didn’t die in vain but he gave the ultimate sacrifice for us all.”
He also mention how Smith was a big kid at heart as he was like a big brother to his children. He taught Kicklighter and his family to play “Guitar Hero” and would take his daughter to ride four wheelers whenever she wanted. Smith had even once allowed Kicklighters son to shoot a BB gun at him as he was chased around the yard, a story that brought laughter to the crowd.
Capt. Brian Gluck, a former LHS wrestling team trainer who currently is serving in Afghanistan, recalled times when he and Smith would talk about military and how he wanted to be like his dad. He read a letter from his son, Julian Gluck, who wrestled with Smith and is also a military member.
“I can see how his fellow unit could have gained the same trust in him as we did at LHS,” wrote Julian Gluck. “All of us on his team and all in his service are better for having known Sgt. Stefan Smith.”
Brian Gluck presented Smith’s wife, Kristi, with a flag that was flown over Afghanistan during a special combat operation on July 5 in remembrance of Smith. He presented Smith’s mother, Lisa Mallory, with a small American flag in which he keeps in his flight suit and a coin from Gluck’s squadron to Smith’s father, Patrick Smith.
To wrap up the heartfelt ceremony, Smith’s family was called to speak.
Bryant mentioned that he had met Smith’s father-in-law at the funeral last week, who said Smith was the perfect husband for his daughter.
“He said ‘If I could have hand picked a young man to be the husband for my baby, it was Stefan. He was as good of a husband and father than anyone could’ve asked for,’” Bryant recalled as Smith’s wife burst into tears.
Patrick Smith tried to keep his speech on a happy note, in honor of Kristi Smith’s request. He spoke of how his son always wanted to find that “zing.” He wanted to join the Marines, but it did not go as planned; then he joined the police force, but he still needed more “zing,” said Patrick. He joined the Army and still needed more “zing.”
“A little zing came into his life and he found it down in Hinesville, Georgia,” said Patrick Smith, referring to his son meeting Kristi. “While he still liked what he was doing in the Army, his mind and heart was with his wife and kids.”
Patrick is proud of the life his son lived and hopes that Stefan’s 3-, 2-and 1-year-old children will get to experience who his son was.
“I have no regrets in the life my son lived or the choices he made,” said Patrick Smith, “Really, he touched everyone which makes me proud as a father. I’m sad he’s gone, but I’m proud that he lived the life he lived.”
Emotional, Kristi Smith declined to speak before the crowd and Smith’s mother briefly thanked the crowd as she wept on stage.
The ceremony ended with a slide show of pictures of Smith as candles were lit in his remembrance. LHS wrestlers, old and new, huddled together as they released lanterns into the night sky.
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