The Legend that was 'Big G'
Graham Smith 19th December 1971 – 13th October 2013
It was suggested that I write this article for the website because arguably I was the closest to the Big Fella, so I will try to do him some justice.
Graham Smith, Big G or the Big Fella to his mates was born on the 19th December 1971. He hailed from St Albans Hertfordshire and was by all accounts “A local legend”. Although he had a long and illustrious past and had been through many adventures before getting into Vietnam I only knew him through our mutual passion so that is where I will begin.
I met G when I joined a Vietnam Living History group specialising in the First Cavalry circa 1968/69 where I made many friends, However G was different. He went out of his way to be friendly to the new guy and we struck up an instant rapport, we both were obsessed with Vietnam, loved 60’s music, and Bourbon……..hmmmm Bourbon. In stature he was a mountain of a man, every inch the scariest looking man in any room, but he had a heart of gold and was easily one of the kindest most generous and fiercely loyal friends anyone could ever have.
For a couple of years we remained with the group and built our collections, planning how our individual displays could be put together to build the best look possible. G diversified slightly and started running an MP (Military Police) section for the group, he looked every inch the imposing MP and when we attended the Royal Electrical Mechanical Engineers Vietnam themed NCO’s Summer ball, G and his team guarded the dancing girls from the unwanted stage incursions of our GI’s. Graham would phone me at least once a day for a chat (usually minimum of 30 minutes) but often he’d call three or four times a day, in fact he is the only person I have ever heard of who had to have his mobile contract changed to a business tariff as he was on the phone so much! He was completely selfless, one time I had a ridiculously heavy 1960’s fireplace to install in my house and he and Ryan drove from St Albans to my house to help me install it.
Then one day his voice was different when he rang, he had been taken into hospital and had a kidney removed in an emergency procedure, it was the worst news – Cancer had got my best friend.
Never one to be beaten G carried on regardless, his collection grew and half way through a season with the group we were in, things came to head for both of us and a few other members, we parted ways with the group. Both G and I wanted to pursue the Vietnam period on a wider scale. After leaving we spoke at length about how to start a group that would vary its displays and keep the interests of its members and visiting public inspired. At Military Odyssey 2012 AFVN had its first outing with a total membership of 4.
Plans were eagerly made for the 2013 season but sadly G’s Cancer progressed and he was unable to attend any shows, although the calls still came to see how it had gone, his voice was now weaker, now rather than ending the call buzzing with the funny stuff Graham had said to tell Ros (my wife), I would come off the phone choked by fear that my friend might not get through this. Selfless to the last G once told me “I’m glad it got me and not you, you’ve got Ros and the kids”. In October 2013 I had arranged to visit G at his home in St Albans as I had before but I got a message to tell me he was tired and to reschedule, that was the last time I heard from G. His sister let me know that he had passed away late on October 13th 2013, I poured two bourbons (A four Roses – Which G incidentally had always wanted to try but never had) one I used to toast him and the other sat poignantly on the fireplace he had installed.
G’s Funeral came around and I got a call from his sister Jackie to say G had said he would like us all to turn up in our uniforms for his funeral, a joker to the last, he had a bunch of us walking through St Albans on Friday lunchtime dressed in 1960’s US Army uniforms! AFVN’s final act of 2013 was to lead a two minute silence as guard of honour around the coffin of our founding member.
G had left instruction to ensure his collection was to be sold for his family and that it was sold to the right people, I should collect it and sell it through the group and to other re-enactors. Except his field desk which his family donated to the group so that G is always at shows with us. So I dutifully packed up his collection and struggled to get the car home to Sussex with limited visibility!
It was whilst I was selling his possessions, I was contacted by a name I recognised looking to purchase G’s flak jacket, after a few messages it turned out to be Ben Connor, the same guy who had given up collecting and sold me the gear I had needed to start re-enacting, subsequently leading me to meet G in the first place. After some chats, Ben joined AFVN and is now my Co-admin and as such the circle was strangely complete, Ben and I chat every day and I would now happily count him as one of my best friends. Since then Ben and I have grown AFVN into what we have now, a core of guys who all get along and are committed to celebrating the Vietnam veterans who gave so much, I feel happy saying that we have realised G’s dream and whatever he’s doing now he’s got the biggest grin on his face knowing that in his words “We done good son!”
Incidentally G has a monument at every show we attend – We all miss you brother