Cassie Smith said her 5-year-old niece accepted the decoration July 30 during a private ceremony held for Army Sgt. 1st Class Dale Smith Jr.’s family, held at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C.
“She understood that her dad was sick and that he was unable to accept it from the general at that time,” Cassie Smith said.
“Her whole life’s been turned upside down. She’s in a place where she’s never been before. She’s a typical kid, (and) she’s trying to understand it all.”
Smith, of Clovis, had only been in Afghanistan about a month when his unit came under enemy fire and he was critically wounded. Family has said the 29-year-old sustained a gunshot wound to the head in the July 15 attack.
Cassie Smith said the Purple Heart was presented by Maj. Gen. David G. Perkins, commander of the 4th Infantry Division.
“He (Perkins) just reinforced the fact that Army takes care of Army and that D.J. would remain in good hands,” she said. “He thanked us for standing behind the military. It was really touching. He made it personal.”
Maj. Crystal Boring, a spokeswoman for Fort Carson, Colo., confirmed Smith is assigned there, but said she could not confirm his injuries.
Cassie Smith said Dale Smith Jr., whose parents Dale and Cindy Smith live in Clovis, was recently moved to National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., where he has continued to show improvement.
He is expected to be moved to a Florida rehabilitation facility around the end of the month. His wife, Lindsey Smith, and their two children will relocate to be with him through his recovery.
“The people at the rehab are very reassuring, very hands-on and they are looking forward to him being there,” Cassie Smith said.
“It could take a year, it could take two years. It’s all on D.J.’s shoulders how long it’s going to take him. He’s very tough and he’s endured so much so far that I think he’s got a pretty darn good chance.”
The Purple Heart is awarded to members of the U.S. armed forces who are wounded in war at the hands of the enemy.
Dale Smith Jr., a Clovis High School graduate, and his wife, Lindsey Smith of Farwell, had moved to Colorado just before his deployment to Afghanistan.
A prayer vigil was held July 20 in Clovis with family, friends and community members gathering to extend their hopes for his recovery.
The support of the community has been wonderful, Cassie Smith said, and the family says the prayers for recovery are helping.