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Cody Smith can tell you exactly where he was on Veterans Day last year.

The Ruch resident, then a private first class with the Army's elite 101st Airborne Division (air assault) based at Fort Campbell, Ky., was on a remote ridge in the Ghaziabad district of Kunar Province in eastern Afghanistan, a mountainous region known for its frequent insurgent attacks.

"We had been up there for six days, enduring firefights all day long," he said, speaking from a wheelchair to those gathered for the annual Veterans Day ceremony Friday morning at the Oregon Fallen War Heroes Memorial in Central Point.

"My friend leaned over to me and said, 'Hey, it's Veterans Day,' " Smith said. "I thought, 'Great, here I am on Veterans Day — whoop de do.'

"I didn't know how much it would mean to me later on, until I got hurt and came home," Smith added of the day set aside to honor veterans.

In addition to Smith, other speakers included state Rep. Dennis Richardson, R-Central Point, and U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore.

A 2009 graduate of South Medford High School, where he was an all-conference guard on the football team, Smith was shot in the lower spine on Feb. 17, initially paralyzing his lower extremities.

The soldier, whose best friend in his unit died beside him that day, had three weeks left in his yearlong deployment when he was wounded.

The son of Chris and Vicki Smith of Ruch would spend the next six months in military hospitals, including Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C.

It wasn't until he arrived home on July 8 that he realized how much residents in the region cared about its veterans, he said.

"When I got home, we had $150,000 worth of work done to our house to help us out and help me have access to the house," he said of his childhood home.

Smith, who received a standing ovation, thanked everyone who had stepped in to help his family.

"In this day and age, you get to come home and people are proud of you and help support you," he observed. "I'm glad when I came home I had a good reunion. People were thanking me, coming up to talk to me."

But he was quick to observe that many other veterans have not received the same level of support.

"There are a lot of vets out there who didn't get the treatment I have gotten," he said. "Remember to think of that on Veterans Day."

Richardson, who served as a helicopter pilot in the Vietnam War, thanked Smith for his service.

"Cody knows what it really means when you serve your country and come back in a different condition, but stronger in many ways," Richardson said.

Like Smith, he urged the audience to remember all veterans, including the Oregonians who have lost their lives in Iraq or Afghanistan. Their names have been added to the more than 5,700 names of Oregonians killed in war that are etched on the black granite plaques at the memorial, he noted.

Inevitably, more names will be added in the years to come, he said.

During his presentation, Walden, who also thanked Smith for his service, said those in military uniform today carry on an honored tradition.

"Our courageous troops in Iraq and Afghanistan and around the globe have earned their place alongside previous generations of great Americans," he said, noting many have served more than one tour.

"Rest assured that we will see this selflessness again whenever our service members are called to duty," he added.

Noting that President George Washington said a young person's willingness to serve is directly proportional to how veterans are treated, Walden announced that the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs will expand its Grants Pass clinic, which serves about 800 veterans in Josephine County. About 11,000 veterans live in the county, he added.

"A lot of them have to make the long commute to White City or Roseburg to get basic care," he said.

The VA's Southern Oregon Rehabilitation Center and Clinics has recommended its outreach clinic in Grants Pass be expanded to double its available service. Walden said he supported that action in a letter to the VA last spring. On Friday, he said he had received a letter from the VA last week saying that an expanded, community-based outreach clinic is under review, and that enough staff would be added in the interim to double access to the Grants Pass clinic.

"That means a thousand more veterans will be able to get care close to home and not have to make that commute," he said.

The point, he said, is that society has the mandate to step forward to help veterans who have done their duty.

"It is our duty to all veterans to make sure when the firefights and battles are over we do not forget them and their service."

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 541-776-4496 or email him at pfattig@mailtribune.com.

Cody Smith, right, is teased by Jack “Grandpa Jack” Smith after giving a speech at the Oregon Fallen War Heroes Memorial in Central Point Friday. - Mail Tribune Photo / Jamie Lusch