DURHAM, N.C. — The U.S. Navy on Tuesday honored one of the original Seabees who was also marking his 100th birthday.
Jerry Smith of Durham was recognized in a ceremony at the Governor's Mansion in Raleigh. Family, friends and state and local leaders joined the Navy in showering Smith with flags and other gifts.
"I'm starting a flag collection," Smith said. "It just overwhelms me. This is something I never expected in my lifetime."
Smith is a "plank owner" in the First Naval Construction Battalion – members of which are called Seabees – which was commissioned on March 15, 1942. He served in the Navy from January 1942 to September 1945.
A Navy plank owner is an individual who was a member of the crew when the ship or command was placed in commission. His battalion is credited with completing construction projects during the war, risking their lives to build hospitals and airfields.
"It's something we did because it had to be done," Smith said. "Other jobs I could leave. I couldn't leave the Seabees, and I'm glad I was in the Seabees."
Rear Adm. Doug Morton, also a Seabee, said Smith is a role model in his career and life.
"There's just this vibrancy to his life," Morton said.