Fallen soldier from WWII honored decades later in Buchanan

Published: May. 29, 2023 at 6:11 PM EDT
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BOTETOURT COUNTY, Va. (WDBJ) - Memorial Day is a holiday to remember the sacrifices that men and women have made for our freedom. The Buchanan community is sharing the legacy of a local soldier, decades later.

Veterans, spouses and Botetourt County residents spent their Memorial Day holiday remembering why we’re able to celebrate. The American Legion’s ninth district commander explained our holiday comes from those who paid the ultimate sacrifice.

“With their very life, they were the ones who ensured that we as Americans are free,” Daniel Garrett said.

The American Legion has hosted a commemoration ceremony in Buchanan for 76 years, and this year, another story is remembered.

“Russell Smith was a WWII veteran killed in action in France,” Garrett said.

Russell was an Army soldier from Botetourt County, whose legacy was marked by a simple stone at Lithia Baptist Church. The president of the Sirens & Salutes charity explained he stumbled upon the makeshift grave marker in March.

“I happened to see over in the corner of the cemetery there was a little rock and I said, ‘Man is this guy here? And this is all we have for this? We got to fix this,” Bill Price said.

The VFW, the American Legion and Sirens & Salutes dedicated a headstone to Smith for his service and sacrifice.

“Even though we can’t and may not find his family, and it’s been how many years since WWII, we need to make this right and make sure he’s remembered,” Price said.

Smith’s is a story now shared decades later and a story to be remembered for decades to come.

“I want these veterans to make sure that they know when they pass away eventually, they’re not going to be forgotten,” Price said. “There’s somebody out there that will put a flag on their headstone every Memorial Day.”

Garrett explained freedom isn’t free, and it’s up to the next generation to keep their legacies alive.

“That’s really what’s going to keep us as a community alive, our stories and our love for one another,” Garrett said.