|Return to Smith's profile | Return to the list|
Pilot Died 'Doing What He Wanted,' Family Says
About 300 soldiers from the 5th Battalion gathered Wednesday at a memorial service in Kuwait for Chief Warrant Officer John Darren "J.D." Smith, 32, of Utah, and three others who died when a sandstorm engulfed their U.S. Army Black Hawk helicopter.
The other crew members killed in Tuesday's crash in the Kuwaiti desert from the 158th Aviation Regiment were Chief Warrant Officer Timothy Moehling, 35, of Florida; Spc. Rodrigo Gonzalez-Garza, 26, of Texas; and Spc. William Tracy, 27, of New Hampshire.
Later this week, Smith's wife, Meredith, and their daughters Kiara, 8, and Madeline, 4, will return from Italy to Salt Lake County for funeral services. Smith was stationed in Aviano with his family until his deployment to Kuwait.
"I want people to know he didn't die in vain, he was doing what he wanted to do," said Smith's mother-in-law, Anna Lee MacKay of Taylorsville. "He went willing to protect our freedoms. It's just a shame he had to go this way."
The crash remains under investigation.
Smith, who grew up in Taylorsville, was a frequent guest in MacKay's home, starting about the time he began dating his future wife, when they were 15 years old. He was a football player and Meredith was a cheerleader at Taylorsville High School. He served a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Italy. She went on a Mormon mission to Australia.
The couple married on Sept. 2, 1992, MacKay's own wedding anniversary.
"He has been part of our family for a long time," said MacKay. "He was my son, too."
Smith and his wife lived in a downstairs apartment at the MacKay's home while he attended the University of Utah, majoring in psychology. Both his daughters were born during this time.
He had wanted to become a commercial pilot, and saw the military as a way to achieve his goal. He started out as a fixed-wing pilot before flying Black Hawks.
Smith was finishing his master's degree in aeronautical science when he quit temporarily to go to Kuwait. He also had served in Tunisia and Poland. Smith spoke fluent Italian and was a translator for his unit.
Smith's mother and two younger brothers live in Utah, said MacKay. His father, a commercial pilot, is in Texas, and his two sisters reside in California and Idaho.
"People have been calling from all over the world," said MacKay. "He had friends in the church and the military, almost everywhere. We have a wonderful support system, but I still can't tell you where my strength is coming from."
In Kuwait, Capt. Martin Kendrick, the battalion's chaplain, told the crew's grieving comrades, "We don't know how, or why, this tragic thing happened. We can't bring these soldiers back, but we can remember the happy times with them."
MacKay said that in his last telephone call home, Smith spoke to his father-in-law of the possible war against Iraq: "Lynn, I'm going to get them."