Thomas R. Smith, a 1971 Penn State graduate, presented the framed American flag to Penn State head football coach Bill O’Brien.
Alumnus Involved In Special Tribute to Football Team
On a day devoted to celebrating the achievements of the 2012 Penn State football team, a Penn State Altoona alumnus offered an inspirational tribute on behalf of military personnel serving in Afghanistan.
At the request of soldiers in the 1st Cavalry Division of the United States Army, Thomas R. Smith, a 1971 Penn State graduate, presented a framed American flag that had been in combat to Penn State head football coach Bill O’Brien after the football team’s annual banquet. The flag, displayed in a specially designed case that also features a certificate honoring the football team, was flown in an Apache helicopter during a combat mission in Afghanistan.
The pilot of the helicopter during the mission on September 11, 2011—the tenth anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the United States—was Major Brian Hummel, a loyal Penn State supporter from Tamaqua, Pennsylvania, who invited Sergeant Carl F. Campbell II, an Altoona native and lifelong Nittany Lion football fan, to send the flag to the team. In a letter to Coach O’Brien, Sergeant Campbell stated that the 1st Cavalry Division includes numerous Penn State graduates and Nittany Lion football fans.
“Throughout the deployment, we all banded together and we all supported you and your new coaching staff,” Sergeant Campbell wrote. “As a token of our support and to show you our appreciation for what you do, we decided to pitch in together and get you a couple of souvenirs.”
While visiting his grandmother in Altoona when he was home on leave, Sergeant Campbell contacted Smith and asked him to facilitate presentation of the flag to Coach O’Brien.
Smith was the perfect representative. A retired member of the Pennsylvania Army National Guard, Smith performed with Sergeant Campbell’s father, Carl Sr., in the National Guard’s 28th Division Band, based in Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania, during twenty-three of his forty years of service. A Penn State football and basketball season ticket holder, Smith is a longtime Penn State volunteer leader, benefactor, and athletics booster.
“It was an honor for me to present Coach O’Brien with this special commemorative Army plaque created by soldiers based in Bagram Airfield,” said Smith. “They are dedicated alumni and supporters of Penn State, and very much wanted to provide Coach O’Brien and the coaching staff with a token of their support and recognize the team’s tremendous accomplishments. When I met with Coach O’Brien and provided background on the preparation and symbolism of the plaque, he was overwhelmingly appreciative. He was ecstatic, and expressed his gratitude to the soldiers several times. It was an exciting moment in that I was able to relay the sentiments and gratitude of our soldiers in harm’s way who have a strong commitment to Penn State.”