Retired Tarleton assistant professor of Spanish Burton Smith is also a retired Navy veteran of 20 years.
In the Navy, he was commander of Sea, Air and Land [SEAL] Team 4 with the area of responsibility in the Caribbean, Central and South America.
He taught Spanish at Tarleton for 17 years, starting in 1999 and retired in May of this year
Asked how he became fluent is Spanish, Smith replies, “I am from South Texas and grew up around a lot of Hispanic people, took Spanish in school, and our family vacations were in Mexico, so I was always exposed to it and started developing a fluency at an early age.
“But I really became fluent with my last tour of duty in Central America, in El Salvador. That was in the 1980s, when the civil war was going on there.”
Smith holds a BA from SMU, MS from the Naval Post Graduate School, and got his MA in Spanish from the University of Texas to be able each Spanish at the university level.
“When I was a youngster, I always thought that I would be a teacher. I didn’t realize I was going to be a military career man first," he said. “But after my 20-year career in the Navy, I went back to my lifelong dream of being a teacher.”
He got into the Navy by following in his father’s footsteps.
“My father, Hart Smith, was a Navy instructor pilot during WWII. He was assigned in Corpus Christi, and the outlying bases there," he said."
His dad met and married Smith’s mother who was from there and they lived there for the rest of his life.
“My dad was just about to deploy to the war, but then they dropped the bomb and the war ended and they stayed in the Corpus Christi area afterward,” Smith said. “So with my dad having been Navy, I had that connection. And we lived very near the Naval Air Station in Corpus Christi, so most of my friends and schoolmates had that Navy connection too.
“Being a college student in the 1960s, the draft was a big deal during the Viet Nam war. I didn’t want to be drafted, but wanted to serve, so I looked at other opportunities and one of them was joining the Navy. “
He says the Navy had recruiters coming to the SMU campus recruiting for aviation, so he joined and started flight training after he graduated.
“But then the Navy had a cutback in pilots in the pipeline because the war was winding down. Being a reservist, I was basically told, ‘Thank you very much but we don’t need your services.’
“Since I was in the reserves, I wasn’t going to be drafted, but I wanted to stay in the Navy and really experience the military. I recalled watching Lloyd Bridges on the TV show, ‘Frogman’ and I thought, ‘That’s what I want to do. You know − explosives, diving, parachuting, all of that had a real appeal to me.
“I thought the Underwater Demolition SEAL teams were really going to be up my alley so I volunteered for UDT SEAL training in 1970 and went into seal training toward the end of that year.”
Smith says training was in Coronado, California near San Diego and it was tough.
“It’s six months of training and extremely arduous physically and mentally, with high attrition rates; I started with a class of 117 and I believe 27 of us finished," he said. "I really didn’t know what I was getting into and once I was in it, I just went, ‘Oh my gosh! Am I up to this? Do I really want to do this?'” [Laughs]
He took command of SEAL Team 4 in 1984, and said, “Within the SEAL community, that is the epitome – everyone strives to be selected to command a SEAL team. My team provided advisors to the Salvadoran Navy and I had approximately 140 men under my command.”
Smith and his wife Ann have three children: sons, Patrick and Tyler, and daughter, Eva.
Among his other interests are veterans services organizations, including the VFW and the American Legion. He is currently Commander of Turnbow-Higgs American Legion Post 240 in Stephenville.
He is also active in the Rotary club, both locally and at the district level, about which he says, “I’m proud to say that Rotary was extremely instrumental in the eradication of polio worldwide, and locally we are big supporters of the Meals on Wheels program. “
About Veterans Day he says, “I am always impressed by how this community comes together at this time to recognize the service of veterans both in the military and out. It’s very encouraging and much appreciated.“