Marine Col. Mark Smith remembered for heartfelt letters from Iraq

Marine remembered for his heartfelt letters

Indianapolis — Everybody who knew Marine Col. Mark Smith felt he had a gift.

"The way he would show his emotions. I'm not sure that I've been around many leaders who believe in the people that they're around and show that as much as he did," said Adam Holton.

Smith was Holton's superior in the Reserves 2nd Battalion, 24th Marine Regiment south of Baghdad, an area known as the triangle of death.

"He knew that it was important for our families to know what we were going through so they could relate to us as well as possible," Holton said.

Col. Smith would write weekly emails to the families stateside, soul-searching stories of Iraq at the height of the insurgency in 2004 and 2005, as he told CBS News back then.

This is what Smith wrote to the families afterward: "I saw some of the toughest Marines I have ever known shedding tears and talking of the importance of holding the hands and stroking the heads of their fallen friends and their undying love for them."

Four died in one IED attack that nearly killed Cpl. Scott Kruchten. 

"He had his finger on the pulse of where we were, what was happening," Kruchten said.

Barbara Wentworth had a son in that unit and volunteered to distribute Smith's emails to an anxious address list.

He wrote this about his Marines at Christmastime: "I'm bright enough to know and sharp enough to see this time of year is dealing a hefty blow to my beloved Marines… I know they long for the sights, hunger for the tastes and yearn for the touch of loved ones."

Last Friday, Smith died of cancer at the age of 54. He was buried on Wednesday, but his words live on.

  • Dean Reynolds

    Dean Reynolds is a CBS News National Correspondent based in Chicago.