As a combat-wounded veteran, Gulfport resident Ray Smith is a frequent visitor to the Bay Pines VA Medical Center, where he receives treatment for the injuries he suffered while serving as a Marine "tunnel rat" during the Vietnam War.
But the trip he makes to the hospital today has nothing to do with the burns over 60 percent of his body and other scars, mental and physical.
At noon, he will walk into a room in the hospital where doctors have conferences with the families of the most critically injured as the guest of honor at a ceremony to honor his son, Sean Smith.
On Sept. 11, Sean Smith was killed, along with Ambassador Chris Stevens and former Navy SEALs Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty, during an attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya.
"They are doing a dedication to my son," said Smith, moments before heading off to go fishing with his landlord and best friend, Mike Fidaleo. "I am very unhappy that he is dead. He was murdered and they didn't do anything to help him. I am very upset."
The centerpiece of the dedication will be a plaque on the wall bearing the words that U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young, the Indian Shores Republican, read into the Congressional Record on Nov. 30. They honor the life of Sean Smith, who was with Stevens till the end.
Young and his wife, Bev, have, for all intents and purposes, adopted Smith, visiting and calling frequently, helping with issues at the hospital, trying to guide him along a better path.
The shock of learning about his son, with whom he had just begun to re-establish a relationship after years of estrangement, sent Smith on a downward spiral of liquor and medication. Smith calls the Youngs regularly for support.
"They are like angels," Smith said.
During their many conversations, Young said, one of the things Smith asked for was "something he could have for himself so that he can visit with his son when he goes to the hospital."
Young came up with an idea.
"There will be a parchment-covered copy of a statement I put into the Congressional Record," Young said. "We had it mounted with the proper matting in a nice frame. Also included is a picture of Sean, and an identification of who Sean was."
The statement paints a picture of Sean Smith's life:
"Sean Smith was a native of the Clairemont neighborhood of San Diego, California and seemed destined to serve his nation. His father, Rene 'Ray' Smith, my constituent from Gulfport, Florida, was a Corporal in the United States Marine Corps during the Vietnam War. The elder Smith often served as a 'tunnel rat,' crawling deep into Vietcong underground facilities in search of the enemy. In 1970, during a firefight, he was burned over 60 percent of his body after the brush he was in caught fire. He raised Sean to appreciate the freedoms our nation provides and to be willing to fight for them.
"Sean enlisted in the United States Air Force in 1995 at the age of 17, so young that he needed a parental release. He served six years as a Ground Radio Maintenance Specialist, which included a deployment to Oman. Sean left the Air Force in 2002 as a Staff Sergeant. At the time of his death, Sean was on temporary assignment to assist in the establishment of the Information Technology infrastructure in support of the Mission to Libya. Before his assignment to Benghazi, Sean had given 10 years of dedicated service to the State Department around the globe in Brussels, Baghdad, Pretoria, Montreal, and The Hague.
"A technological guru, Sean's computer savvy was not limited to his United States Air Force and State Department duties. Sean was an avid gamer and well known in the online gaming community of the space fantasy game EVE Online. A leader of the 'Goonswarm' guild, his gaming persona 'Vile Rat' made use of Sean's skills as a diplomat and he was respected as a skilled competitor. Additionally, Sean was a moderator of the internet forum, 'Something Awful,' where he posted about football, politics and working with the Foreign Service."
Young said the unveiling of the plaque will also give Smith a chance to speak in public for the first time about his feelings about the Benghazi attack and how he learned his son was dead. (Smith has told me that he didn't know until watching CNN and seeing his son's flag-draped casket rolled off a plane).
"After Ray speaks, I don't know what will happen," said Young. "He is a very interesting person. Very, very sincere and very sad about his son."
For his part, Smith told me he doesn't know yet what he is going to say.
"Right this minute, I don't know," he told me. "I have been working on it in my head. I am not a happy camper. My son was murdered. Butchered. It is despicable. A disgrace."
The plaque unveiling takes place at noon and is open to the public, but the room is very small. The hospital is at 10000 Bay Pines Blvd, Bay Pines. For more information, call (727) 398-6661.
Every year, the Seminole Hard Rock Casino produces a calendar featuring photos of bikini-clad women who work there. This year, all sales for the month of December are being donated to the U.S. Special Operations Command Care Coalition, which works for the recovery, rehabilitation and reintegration of wounded Special Operations Forces and their families. The calendars are available at the casino's retail store.
Three troops were killed in Afghanistan last week:
There have now been 2,149 deaths in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, the nation's longest war.