SACRAMENTO (CBS13) — A Vietnam veteran who put his life on the line for California can finally call himself an American citizen, thanks to an act 40 years in the making.
When Leslie Jack Smith, 65, became a citizen on Wednesday, he swore to support and defend his country. But he’d already done that back in 1969 when he joined the Army.
“Requested my orders changed from Germany to Vietnam in exchange for citizenship,” he said. “And it was, no problem, sure right away, signed, had my orders, and went over there.”
Smith came to the United States with his parents when he was 9. While he was in the Army, he was told he could get U.S. citizenship if he volunteered for service in Vietnam, which he did for three years.
“I have an honorable discharge, DD-213, and it states on line 7, ‘citizen,’” he said.
But 45 years later, when Smith applied for Social Security, he was told that paper meant nothing, and that there was no record of his citizenship.
Smith was devastated.
“I had made a deal, I thought,” he said. “It was important to me.”
So he enlisted the help of Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Hayward) for help. And on Wednesday, the nation he fought for finally acknowledged him as one of its own.
“You’ve always been here, but it’s our honor to make it official,” Swalwell said at Smith’s swearing-in.
Smith’s feelings are still raw about the way he was treated when he returned from Vietnam, but now the country is officially standing with him now.
Because after all, a deal is a deal.