published Saturday, June 7th, 2014

Dinner honors American heroes at The Chattanoogan

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    Staff File Photo by John W. Coniglio The Chattanoogan stands on Broad Street in downtown Chattanooga on Thursday.

On the 70th anniversary of D-Day, a local organization dedicated to providing aid to wounded veterans held its first "American Heroes Dinner" to raise money toward that goal.

"One of the common threads that runs throughout our board and the people that serve with us, is a passion for our servicemen and women that have been wounded, and tonight we want to ignite that passion in you," said Todd Smith, father of wounded U.S. Army Sgt. Andrew Smith, to the packed ballroom at The Chattanoogan.

The Honoring the Sacrifice Foundation, begun in fall 2013 by Andrew Smith -- who lost both legs on his first patrol near Kandahar, Afghanistan, in March 2012 -- and his wife, Tori, exists to provide severely wounded veterans and their families with help in addressing their needs, both financial and material.

Aid offered is not in the form of general programs, but instead seeks to address the specific needs of the injured service member.

"It took us not very long at all until we realized that actually we're the rarity, that Chattanooga's the best city on Earth, and that we had a support system unlike most of our friends," said Tori Smith, in relation to the level of assistance they received after Sgt. Smith's injuries.

"The sacrifice these men and women make, it lasts a lifetime," Tori Smith continued. "Our commitment to them should, as well."

Since the beginning of military action in Iraq and Afghanistan, nearly 7,000 U.S. service members have died as a result of combat, and almost 50,000 have been wounded.

The dinner was held not only to raise money for the foundation, but also to honor a few other local wounded veterans: Sgt. Josh Wetzel, Sgt. Corey Garmon, Sgt. Jason Smith and Sgt. Larry Smith.

Retired U.S. Army Col. Danny McKnight, known for his role in the 1993 Battle of Mogadishu in Somalia -- made famous by the book and film "Black Hawk Down" -- gave the keynote address.

McKnight, with more than 28 years of service in the military and now a motivational speaker, spoke about the hard work and sacrifices of military service members. He told the story of U.S. Army Sgt. Brendan Marrocco, the first quadruple-amputee since World War II -- of the sacrifice he made, and his recovery since.

"That's really what remembering the sacrifice, and this, is all about," McKnight said. "It's about those like Brendan, and many, many others. I don't think we could do enough. I think it's impossible to do enough. So, all we can keep doing is trying to do more and more every day."

Contact staff writer Alex Harris at aharris@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6592.

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