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Posted: 5/19/2005 7:36:41 AM EDT
From the StPete Times

TAMPA - In the two years since her husband died in Iraq, Birgit Smith has been awash in red, white and blue. She flies the American flag at her home in Holiday, wears flag T-shirts and drives a Ford Explorer with a flag decal on the back.

On April 4, she stood near Old Glory as President Bush posthumously awarded Sgt. 1st Class Paul R. Smith the Medal of Honor. And in Tampa Wednesday morning, Smith clutched a miniature flag in her right hand, waving it amid a crowd of hundreds.

This time, she said, the flag meant something different. "Today made it official. It's not just a feeling anymore."

Smith, a native of Germany, had just become an American citizen.

"I know Paul's extremely proud," Smith, 38, said after a ceremony at the Tampa Convention Center. "I feel whole now. I don't feel like something is missing inside of me."

The couple met in Germany in the early 1990s when Smith, then a private fresh from Tampa, was assigned to an Army combat engineer unit in Bamberg. They married after the Persian Gulf War and moved to the United States in 1992. Over the years, she said, they talked about her becoming a citizen. "But we just never knew where we would be. We didn't want to start something and not finish it."

Only after her husband was killed in battle outside Baghdad on April 4, 2003, did she take up the cause in earnest.

"When tragedy hits, you really see how Americans care for each other," Smith said, referring to the hundreds of people who sent her messages and posted notes online. "That just blew me away."

During Wednesday morning's ceremony, Smith and about 300 other people representing 64 countries watched patriotic videos, listened to Lee Greenwood's God Bless the USA and took the Oath of Allegiance, in which loyalty to other countries is renounced.

Smith said that part was made easier by her feelings toward Germany since the war began in Iraq. "I had a pretty good grudge against them for not supporting us."

At the end, Smith led the group in the Pledge of Allegiance and then headed back to Pasco County with her mother-in-law, Janice Pvirre.

They stopped for lunch along the way. For her first meal as a citizen, Mrs. Smith kept it simple: a Greek salad and decaf coffee. "I should have had a Big Mac," she said. "That's really American."

Men and women and families like this always renew my faith in America.
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