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The True Story Of How 'E-Tool' Smith Earned His Famous Nickname
There’s a famous Marine Corps story from the Vietnam War, where a Marine got a confirmed kill with a small collapsible shovel, called an entrenching tool, or E-tool.
An entrenching toolDepartment of Defense photo.
According to one legend, Maj. Gen. Ray Louis Smith was a young officer leading a group of Vietnamese Marines through enemy lines when they were spotted by an enemy scout. Smith sprung into action and killed the man with an E-tool to minimize noise.
Other tellings of the story involve a brutal gun battle during which Smith’s primary and secondary weapons malfunctioned. Smith then turned to an entrenching tool to dispatch his foes.
Both stories are untrue. Smith never killed a man with an E-tool. However, his battlefield heroics are no less extraordinary for that fact. What he actually did was far more impressive, selfless, and heroic than killing a man with a shovel.
Smith, now 70 years old, boasts a 33-year military career that began with his enlistment in the Marine Corps in 1966, and ended with his retirement in 1999. He deployed twice to Vietnam, served in Grenada and Beirut, is a Navy Cross recipient, has two Silver Star Medals, a Bronze Star Medal with Valor, and received three Purple Hearts for injuries sustained in combat.
“The E-tool story is a legend,” Smith told Task & Purpose. “At least back in my young days in the Corps, we had a definition for a legend, a Marine Corps legend was a pack of lies that was built on an original kernel of truth. The truth is that I never killed anybody with an entrenching tool. I killed a few that I could have killed with an entrenching tool, but I never did.”
The true events the story is based on occurred between late March and early April of 1972 during Smith’s second tour in Vietnam. According to his Navy Cross citation and personal recollection, he was acting as an advisor to a group of approximately 250 Vietnamese Marines on a remote outpost in Vietnam. After intense and unrelenting combat, during which poor weather conditions prevented air support, Smith attempted to lead 28 Vietnamese troops back to friendly lines.
As they reached the enemy’s outer defensive line they came across a razor-wire barrier infested with booby traps. There they were discovered by an enemy soldier who opened fire. Acting swiftly and without hesitation, Smith moved forward, pressed the barrel of his AR-15 into the man’s belly and shot him at point-blank range, killing him. Then Smith used his own body to clear a path through the wire, laying on top of it so his men could walk over him and cross to safety, before following them out of the kill zone.
This is “the kernel of truth” that eventually grew into legend.
The myth began to take form after Smith returned stateside and was assigned to The Basic School in Quantico, Virginia.
“The E-tool legend I think got started by some of my fellow instructors when I was teaching at The Basic School after my time in Vietnam and the lieutenants spread it throughout the Corps and it never died,” he said.
Smith added that he believes the legend may have had to do with the original wording of his citation, and the fact that his fellow instructors would embellish stories for the sake of it.
“The wording in the citation I think is, I ‘eliminated’ him and I believe that some of my fellow instructors elaborated on that for me by telling the lieutenants I eliminated him with an entrenching tool,” Smith said. “I think that’s where the thing started.”
He admits that he may have indirectly played a role in the story’s spread. When Smith took over instruction on patrolling at the school, he saw that many of the young lieutenants were spending a month’s pay on expensive combat knives.
“I was trying to poo poo all that stuff and eliminate it, and I know I did more than once tell the lieutenants they didn’t need to spend three or four hundred dollars on a damn fighting knife,” Smith said. “The Marine Corps would issue them a knife if they needed one and if they didn’t have a knife, the Marine Corps was certainly going to issue them an entrenching tool which was a better fighting instrument than any knife, which I do believe. But that wasn’t based on the fact that I killed anyone with an E-tool, it was just an opinion. So it was a combination of things like that, is how it got started.”
As the legend spread, Smith earned the moniker “E-tool Smith,” which he said he first heard while at 2nd Marine Division in the early 1980s and initially didn’t know where it came from.
“People called me that throughout my entire career, but if anyone ever asked me about it, I always tell them the truth, but legends don’t die easy in the Corps,” Smith said, adding, “a lot of people that know it’s not true, even today continue to verify it.”
The legend’s persistence isn’t surprising. It’s an incredible story, but more than that, it feeds back into the Marine Corps’ mythology — something Smith said he feels is good for the Corps.
“When I say legends are good for the Corps, I mean that the Marine Corps is what it is because we believe in ourselves,” Smith said. “We’re not physically and intellectually the best in the world, we’re among the best, but we collectively are the best fighting force in the world because we believe we are.”
Smith explained that legends provide future Marines something to strive toward.
“Legends and things that other Marines believe in and attempt to hold, are good for the Corps,” continued Smith. “It’s not important to me that any individual Marines think that I’m ‘E-tool Smith.’ I think that it is good for the Corps for Marines to think that there is an ‘E-tool Smith’ out there.”
The Navy has paused proceedings that could strip Eddie Gallagher and three other SEALs of their tridents while the service awaits a written order to formally stand down, a senior Navy official told Task & Purpose on Thursday.
Rear Adm. Collin Green, the head of Naval Special Warfare Command, was expected to decide on the matter after the SEALs appeared before a review board next month. But Trump tweeted on Thursday that Gallagher was in no danger of losing his trident, a sacred symbol of being part of the SEAL community.
"The Navy will NOT be taking away Warfighter and Navy Seal Eddie Gallagher's Trident Pin," the president tweeted. "This case was handled very badly from the beginning. Get back to business!"
A Corpsman went to a military hospital for a routine shoulder surgery. 4 days later he was dead, and his parents say the Navy is to blame
Jordan Way was living a waking nightmare.
The 23-year-old sailor laid in bed trembling. At times, his body would shake violently as he sobbed. He had recently undergone a routine shoulder surgery on Dec. 12, 2017, and was hoping to recover.
Instead, Jordan couldn't do much of anything other than think about the pain. Simple tasks like showering, dressing himself, or going to the bathroom alone were out of the question, and the excruciating sensation in his shoulder made lying down to sleep feel like torture.
"Imagine being asleep," he called to tell his mother Suzi at one point, "but you can still feel the pain."
To help, military doctors gave Jordan oxycodone, a powerful semi-synthetic opiate they prescribed to dull the sensation in his shoulder. Navy medical records show that he went on to take more than 80 doses of the drug in the days following the surgery, dutifully following doctor's orders to the letter.
Instinctively, Jordan, a Navy corpsman who by day worked at the Twentynine Palms naval hospital where he was now a patient, knew something was wrong. The drugs seemed to have little effect. His parents advised him to seek outside medical advice, but base doctors insisted the drugs just needed more time to work.
"They've got my back," Jordan had told his parents before the surgery, which happened on a Tuesday. By Saturday, he was dead.
Two airmen from Vance Air Force Base, Oklahoma, were killed on Thursday when two T-38 Talon training aircraft crashed during training mission, according to a message posted on the base's Facebook age.
The two airmen's names are being withheld pending next of kin notification.
A total of four airmen were onboard the aircraft at the time of the incident, base officials had previously announced.
The medical conditions for the other two people involved in the crash was not immediately known.
An investigation will be launched to determine the cause of the crash.
Emergency responders from Vance Air Force Base are at the crash scene to treat casualties and help with recovery efforts.
Read the entire message below:
VANCE AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. – Two Vance Air Force Base Airmen were killed in an aircraft mishap at approximately 9:10 a.m. today.
At the time of the accident, the aircraft were performing a training mission.
Vance emergency response personnel are on scene to treat casualties and assist in recovery efforts.
Names of the deceased will be withheld pending next of kin notification.
A safety investigation team will investigate the incident.
Additional details will be provided as information becomes available. #VanceUpdates.
This is a breaking news story. It will be updated as more information is released.
The commander of the Marine Corps' Wounded Warrior Regiment has been relieved over a loss of "trust and confidence in his ability to lead" amid an investigation into his conduct, a Corps official told Task & Purpose on Thursday.
Col. Lawrence F. Miller was removed from his post on Thursday morning and replaced with his executive officer, Lt. Col. Larry Coleman, who will serve as interim commander of the Quantico, Virginia based unit.
President Donald Trump has nixed any effort by the Navy to excommunicate Eddie Gallagher from the SEAL community.
"The Navy will NOT be taking away Warfighter and Navy Seal Eddie Gallagher's Trident Pin," the president tweeted on Thursday. "This case was handled very badly from the beginning. Get back to business!"