A leader's leader

Some say America is in decline. The numbers, and the malaise in the news and the dissatisfaction in the streets, seem to bear that out.

But for a brief few moments Tuesday night in Augusta, it sure didn’t feel like that.

At a downtown ceremony to honor retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Perry Smith – a civilian affair arranged by friends and admirers, and capped off by the naming of a street for him at Augusta Regional Airport – you just felt great about America.

The patriotic trappings helped, of course: a stirring recitation of Johnny Cash’s Ragged Old Flag by retired Command Sgt. Maj. Tom Clark; the singing of God Bless America by Smith’s angel-voiced wife, Connor; appearances and remarks by recipients of the Medal of Honor, the military’s highest award for heroism; and more.

But what really made you feel more confident in America was simply the man the city was honoring.

Quite simply, Perry M. Smith is a great American, in every sense of the word. For his 30-year military career and 180 combat missions; for his devotion to God and family; for his service on the national Medal of Honor Foundation; and for his continued tireless work on behalf of the community he chose to retire to after a childhood and adulthood of frenetic military moving.

Most of us would be happy enough to be as accomplished as he in either military or civilian life, much less both. Besides his high-flying Air Force deployments, Smith also has been commandant of the National War College and taught multiple times at the Air Force Academy. He’s been an expert analyst on major networks CNN, NBC, CBS and elsewhere. He has taught leadership and ethics and has shown these and other tools to military leaders, scholars and business executives.

Of late, Gen. Smith’s main missions have concerned philanthropic work with the Kroc Center, Fisher House, Boy Scouts, Augusta Museum of History, Kiwanis and more. Even the still-new room at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church downtown where they honored him was much of his doing.

In short, he’s become as much a civic leader as a military one. And Augusta is inestimably better for it.

The ceremony honoring Perry Smith was more than an illusion or a temporary peek at a bygone era. It – this man’s life, really – is a road map to a greater future for America. A natural teacher, Gen. Smith has mostly taught us by example – showing us the fruits of honor, the rewards of single-minded dedication, the harvest of a life well-lived.

He has spent so much time and effort telling others’ stories – including on these pages as a regular columnist, we’re happy to claim.

It’s about time someone told his.

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