EAST PEORIA, Ill. (WMBD) — Kim Smith said it’s been 13 years without her husband.

Staff Sergeant Paul Smith was killed on June 19, 2009, when his convoy was struck by a bomb in Kandahar, Afghanistan. He was 43 years old.

“Growing up I knew what Memorial Day was, for the services of the soldiers. When it actually became our turn to honor Paul, it was… it’s changed a lot… Now I know what Memorial Day really means to the families that gave the ultimate sacrifice…are living with what we’re living,” she said.

Paul spent 16 years in the Army, spending time in Bosnia, Kuwait, Iraq and Afghanistan. He returned to Afghanistan in 2008 for his sixth deployment.

“He volunteered in 2008 to go with the guys. He didn’t have to go, but he said these young pups don’t know what’s going on…and he went,” said Kim.

Kim said Paul visited in May 2009 to celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary. He went back to Afghanistan on the 13th, their actual anniversary. He never returned.

“Nothing prepares you for what they pushed through the door and told us, read the letter and said this is what happened,” she said.

Kim said this year has been especially difficult because 13 was their special number.

“It’s the 13th year, and 13 was a big important year for us because we got married on Friday the 13th, May 13th,” she said. “The 13th this year… it’s struck a different chord inside of me like I’m just… I can’t explain it… it’s sadness,” she said.

A stretch of Route 8 from Oakwood Rd. from Meadow Ave. in East Peoria is named for Paul. There is also a memorial marker on Jay St.

The stretch named after Paul ends near the former Lester’s Donuts, which is now a Subway.

“Lester’s Donuts ironically blew up on the day Paul died,” she remarked, adding he loved the donut shop.

Their son Ben Smith said it’s an honor to be a Gold Star Family.

“But it’s also a sacrifice because he’s gone, obviously… Cherish the people you have. You never know when they could just disappear,” she said.

Ben said support for Gold Star Families has declined since the pandemic.

“When COVID-19 came around, I guess we don’t have that support, all the things they usually have for Gold Star Families and all the people that need to be remembered. Hopefully, this year will be a little different,” he said.

Kim said she is proud of her husband and his legacy.

“The ultimate goal is to always honor him, and I do honor him and talk about him anytime I can,” she said.