America’s shining spirit |

America’s shining spirit

John HartSome of Ken Smith's handcrafted stained-glass American flags sit on the windowsill behind him at his Grass Valley home. Smith wants to auction more than a dozen of the flags to raise money for area veterans organizations.
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In his 30 years of military service, Ken Smith never groused about being placed in harm’s way.

A retired member of the Army Air Corps and later the United States Air Force, Smith reflects back on the time when he served his country with respect and honor.

“It felt satisfying,” said Smith, 80, who was a navigator during World War II and Korea and served as a squadron commander during the Vietnam War. “It was a privilege to serve my country.”

Since retiring, Smith’s service to his country has included membership in military service groups. He is a member of American Legion Post 130 and, until it was disbanded earlier this month, led Grass Valley’s Veterans of Foreign Wars post.

While many of these groups need new members, Smith knows there’s something else they need to help keep them afloat.


Employing a bit of his patriotic and artistic spirit, Smith is in the process of creating more than a dozen red, white and blue stained-glass replicas of Old Glory, to be given to the handful of military service organizations in western Nevada County. The flags will be auctioned off to raise money for each organization. Smith is asking that each handcrafted piece be sold for at least $100.

Smith, known in these parts largely for his military service and as a past member of the Nevada County Planning Commission, has been working with stained glass for nearly a quarter of a century. He picked up the hobby when one of the many stained-glass windows in his house cracked.

“I had to fix the window, and from then on, it was ‘just do it,'” he said.

Smith’s home features a stained-glass panel in his foyer that’s more than 100 years old. A stained piece of red, white and blue embossed with “Smith” is affixed to the entry.

Inspiration, Smith insists, doesn’t come from within.

“I’m not artistically inclined. My wife (Winonah) is the artist. She designs the stuff and I just cut ’em up,” he said.

Smith crafts each Bible-sized flag in his basement workshop, cutting red, white and blue pieces of stained glass. Strips of red and white are melded with a patch of blue glass. He cuts out 50 individual stars for each flag, which are then sandblasted onto the blue glass.

Assembling each flag takes about two hours, Smith said.

The war veteran hopes to do more than raise money.

“I hope it will bring the veterans groups together a little bit,” he said.

Dave Gray, commandant of the Marine Corps League Gold Country Detachment, said Smith’s efforts can help keep such organizations alive.

“I think it’s a great idea,” said Gray, an Alta Sierra resident and World War II veteran. “We always need this kind of help, because we kind of work on a shoestring budget.” The money could go toward continued sponsorship of Little League teams and be used for the group’s annual Toys for Tots Christmas event, he said.

Marvin Bottum wasn’t aware of Smith’s efforts, but said the 400 members of the Disabled American Veterans could certainly use the help.

“We give a lot of our money away,” said Bottum, a Vietnam veteran who’s in charge of Disabled American Veterans chapters in Nevada, Yuba and Sutter counties. “It sounds like a great idea, a tremendous and generous idea.” His group garners about $4,000 a year in dues and donations.

Smith, who said he was inspired to do the project in part by last year’s terrorist attacks, hopes others may be inspired to open their hearts and wallets.

“In all honesty, the money isn’t much,” he said, “but I hope it helps.”

For more information on Ken Smith1s stained-glass American flags, call 265-4622.

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