The Orange County judge and the four county commissioners were faced with a difficult two part question. They had to decide how to get the Orange County Veterans Service Office back to serving veterans in the shortest amount of time, and who to select to fill the position of veterans service officer. After only a few days the office was once again serving the veterans. The county administration was advertising for candidates seeking the VSO position.

Last Tuesday, members of commissioners court met with the final four candidates and gave each a 30 minute interview. After reviewing the qualifications of each candidate and their impressions of the interviews the court decided to hire F. E. “Gene” Smith as the new VSO for Orange County.

Smith was born in Port Arthur, lived in Orange for a short time, graduated from Victoria High School in Victoria, Texas in 1957, then came back to Orange in 1959 to join the workforce at DuPont Sabine River Works. He has lived in Orange since then, except for periods of time serving in the Naval Reserve.

Smith began his 30 years of service with active duty  in the Navy aboard the aircraft carrier Valley Forge, working on the flight deck. When the opportunity came to join the Construction Battalion, or Seabees, Smith jumped at the chance to join.

“I enjoyed my time in the Seabees. There is a lot of pride and tradition in belonging to that outfit. We often worked hard, but when there was time to relax, we took it, and played hard. The Seabees are a group that builds camaraderie. We relate to things and experiences that other Navy outfits know nothing about. Of course the non-Seabees feel the same way about their units,” said Smith.

As Smith’s time in service increased and he rose in rank, he was called to active duty and recalled several times. His naval reserve unit was based at Barksdale Air Force Base in Shreveport, La. “Once I asked to transfer to a unit that was closer to home. They sent me to Gulfport Miss.,” said Smith. “It was three miles closer to Orange. I also spent a little time in a unit in Dallas.” In the reserves he served as the senior enlisted training advisor.

He was called to active duty prior to Desert Storm and also during Desert Storm.

In 1987 Smith was a Command Master Chief. He was recalled to active duty. While on active duty he was the only naval reservist to ever serve as an enlisted training advisor. “I took a lot of kidding about that from the regular Navy guys. At times I had to remind them that some of the names they were calling me were two words, not one,” said Smith.

Smith is coming into the job with a working knowledge of the office. He spent time there in the past as a volunteer advisor. “I have also worked with guys in the past at my home and bought the books out of my own pocket to stay up on the current levels of benefits. I have always wanted to help veterans in any way I could,” said Smith.

One of Smith’s goals is to have every veteran in Orange County registered in the county office. “We need to know who the veterans are. If they will register in our office and keep their information current we will be able to help them better. In case of a death of a veteran we would already have a head up on getting the paperwork started to help the survivors obtain benefits,” said Smith. “We are employees of Orange County, not the Veterans Administration. Our primary purpose is to serve our county veterans. If a veteran comes into the office that is not an Orange County resident, we will help him, but we want out-of-county veterans to know that there is a county service officer in every county. The information about county offices is easy to obtain. One way is through the website for the county. Out of state veterans should go to the office nearest to them in their home state. Each state has a separate budget and most importantly, different benefits.”

According to Smith the duties of the employees in the office are to serve in a manner similar to a secretary.

“We are here to do paperwork for the veterans. Some of the forms and questions can be very confusing. It is our job to help our vets understand the process and keep them on the right path. I have spent nearly 70 percent of my life in and with the military. My goal in my job is to help any vetera, in any way I can,” said Smith.

Smith is a member of the Southeast Veterans Service Group. This is a unit that provides uniformed military burials for deceased veterans. “Every veteran has the right to have a uniformed military burial. The family needs to request the service through the funeral home and the home will contact us. The only thing the family needs is a copy of the DD214, discharge paper,” said Smith. “There is no cost for our service. It is a way to say thank you and provide respect for the veteran.”

Smith retired from DuPont with 38 1/2 years of service. His career there was spent in maintenance and ranged from a laborer to a supervisor.

He and his wife Marilyn, an Orange native, have five children and “a whole bunch of grandkids and great-grandkids.”