By Brigid Schulte
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 31, 2010; C06
As a boy in Frederick, Md., David Smith loved to play with his Army and G.I. Joe action figures and spent hours rescuing his older sister Kristen from all manner of imagined peril. As a young man just out of high school, Smith joined the Marine Corps, because he was moved, his friends and family said, to make a difference and put the lives of others ahead of his own. He served in Iraq in 2006 and then volunteered for a tour of duty in Afghanistan. On Tuesday, Sgt. David Smith, 25, died of injuries suffered in a suicide bomber attack.
Smith's family traveled Saturday to Dover Air Force Base to, as his sister Kristen Forse said shakily, "welcome him home."
Smith, a member of the Marine Reserve's 4th Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, shipped out in October to Afghanistan's Helmand province in the south, where a resurgent Taliban movement has made it the deadliest region in the country. On Jan. 23, Smith and other Marines were supporting Afghan police in providing security around a local bazaar, setting up barbed wire to protect against insurgent attacks, Forse said U.S. military officials and a soldier wounded in the attack told the family.
Somehow, she said, a suicide bomber made it through the security perimeter and detonated a bomb, which killed three Marines and injured four others. A ball bearing from the makeshift bomb hit the back of her brother's head, she said. A medic got Smith's heart beating again, she said, and he was transported to a military hospital in Kandahar, then flown to the Bagram air base and then to Germany, where he was declared brain dead.
Military doctors kept Smith on life support until his father and mother, a scientist at Fort Detrick, were able to fly to Germany, Forse said. Once his parents arrived, doctors removed Smith from life support, and he died. In keeping with his wishes, Smith's organs were donated. "They told us he saved five or six other people because of that," Forse said. "I think David would have liked that."
Lance Cpl. Jeremy M. Kane, 22, of Towson and Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Xin Qi, 25, of Cordova, Tenn., were also killed in the blast. They were also assigned to the 4th Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion.
News of Smith's death shook the close-knit community in Frederick where he grew up. Last week, Frederick High School, where he graduated in 2002, held a minute of silence in his honor. Dazed friends and family have been going through photos of Smith's life, sharing stories and remembering how he lived fully to the end. They recounted what a wild dancer he was, how funny he could be -- his Facebook page proudly pronounces "my only friends are pirates" -- and that he didn't have an enemy in the world. They told stories of Smith, in his dress blues, visiting a friend's father with Alzheimer's disease in a nursing home and spending hours helping friends build a restaurant. And they recalled the time someone broke into his mother's house in the middle of the night and stole her purse, and Smith, barefoot and in boxers, chased the man down the street and gave him what for until the thief cried, "What do you want?" "I want my Mama's purse," Smith said simply. And he got it.
John Bodnar, who was Smith's soccer coach, put his head down on his desk and wept when he heard that Smith had been killed. "He had a lot of heart," Bodnar wrote then in a note. "He was the kind of kid that you hope your own son would turn out like."
Although he played soccer, lacrosse and football in high school and headed off to the University of Salisbury for college, Forse said that she was not surprised when her brother called one day to tell her that he was joining the Marines. "What are you thinking? We're in the middle of a war?" Forse remembers telling him. But he was determined.
"He always protected those who were not as strong as he was, and he's always had a strong sense of right and wrong," she said. "He loved the Marines. He wanted to be a lifer. If there's one thing that's getting us through right now, it's that he died doing what he loved."
Smith will be buried Feb. 9 in Arlington National Cemetery.