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NDSU honors soldier: Senate awards former student posthumous degree

Nearly every day, Janelle Kadlec pulls the postcard from her purse and reads the upbeat words written by her friend less than three weeks before his death.

Nearly every day, Janelle Kadlec pulls the postcard from her purse and reads the upbeat words written by her friend less than three weeks before his death.

Sgt. Keith Lee Smette mailed the card -- a picture of the toppling statue of Saddam Hussein -- on Jan. 5 from Iraq.

Kadlec received it Jan. 27, three days after a roadside bomb near Fallujah killed the 25-year-old Makoti, N.D., native and fellow National Guard soldier Kenneth Hendrickson, 41, of Bismarck.

Kadlec was among about 300 people who gathered Monday afternoon in North Dakota State University's Memorial Union ballroom to remember Smette, a former NDSU student.

After the service, she recalled fondly their six-year friendship, especially the uplifting attitude Smette brought to the breakfast table every morning when both were living in Seim Hall.


"He was fun, but I'll always remember him for being a healer," she said.

Gov. John Hoeven said Smette could have stayed in the comfort of NDSU, but instead chose on Jan. 30, 2003, to volunteer with his younger brother, Robert, for active duty with the Bismarck-based 957th Multi-Role Bridge Company.

"Our hearts are broken, but at the same time they're filled with gratitude and they're filled with pride," Hoeven said as Smette's parents, Doug and Charlotte, listened in the front row with their other son and daughter, Sarah. "He was truly an American hero," said Hoeven.

Student body president Dan Mostad presented Charlotte Smette with the NDSU flag flown outside the Memorial Union for one week after her son's death.

Later, members of the NDSU University Senate voted unanimously to award Smette a posthumous degree in university studies.

Several speakers Monday shared stories about Smette's smile, unselfishness and unfailing friendship.

Chris Haman, Smette's longtime friend and former roommate at the University Lutheran Center, fought back tears as he recounted the Jan. 24 phone call informing him of Smette's death.

"There was no explanation, other than faint words on the phone saying, 'He's gone, he's gone,' " Haman said.


"I never understood what it was like to question the death of a loved one until that moment."

The two met in spring 1996 at the state boys' basketball tournament in Bismarck.

When Haman persuaded Smette and six others to lunch at a Chinese restaurant, the high-priced menu scared off all but two people.

"Keith and I were the only two left," Haman said.

That lunch unraveled their commons interests: hunting, fishing and a love of Notre Dame football.

In October 2000, they landed front-row tickets to watch the Fighting Irish take on the Oklahoma Sooners and fulfilled their dream of running down the famed football tunnel in South Bend, Ind.

"We didn't actually get to run because there were guards around us," Haman said.

"But in our dreams we were running."


Readers can reach Forum reporter Mike Nowatzki at (701) 241-5528

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