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Your copy of the "Davis-Monthan Airfield Register" with all the pilots' signatures and helpful cross-references to pilots and their aircraft is available at the link. Or use this FORM to order a copy signed by the author. ISBN 978-0-9843074-0-1.

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OTHER BOOKS FOR YOU

"Military Aircraft of the Davis Monthan Register, 1925-1936" is available at the link. This book describes and illustrates with black & white photographs the majority of military aircraft that landed at the Davis-Monthan Airfield between 1925 and 1936. The book includes biographies of some of the pilots who flew the aircraft to Tucson as well as extensive listings of all the pilots and airplanes. Use this FORM to order a copy signed by the author. ISBN 978-0-9843074-2-5.

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Some of this information comes from the biographical file for pilot Smith, CS-369500-01, reviewed by me in the archives of the National Air & Space Museum (NASM), Washington, DC.

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DONALD FRANCIS SMITH

D.F. Smith, 1928 (Source: Lindsley)

 

 

Donald F. Smith was born in South Carolina June 2, 1900. He was the son of the Governor of South Carolina. He entered the Navy June 3, 1921. He died at Coronado, CA March 13, 1991. He is buried with his second wife, Sophie, in Ft. Rosecrans National Cemetery.

Lt. Smith visited Tucson Tuesday, August 14, 1928 11:45 AM. He was flying A-6309, a Martin T-4M1. He carried one passenger identified as CAAM Caster. They were in a flight of two with pilot Lt. C.C. McDonald, also flying a Martin, A-6308. They remained on the ground one hour. Based at San Diego, CA they were westbound from El Paso, TX to San Diego. Smith noted in the remarks column of the Register, "Ferry."

First, a description of the connection between Don Smith and contributor J.T. Thornton, III (cited, right sidebar). Smith was married to Thornton's mother (his first wife, nee: Lottie Pitt Ettsen) . He says of his mother, "In her young adult day, the best future for young ladies from prominent families were the young naval officers coming through the navy schools [at Pensacola]. I guess the elite were those cadets trying to earn their wings.

There was a concentrated effort by both the navy and civilians to help these young ladies and gentlemen meet each other. Therefore, it followed that my Mother (Miss Pensacola at age 16) married Lt. Donald F. Smith at age 18 in the year 1927 [June]. I am certain that they met during the time he was in flight school to earn his wings. Their marriage was probably just after he graduated [it was].

 

 

 

Interestingly, we can corroborate the interest in bringing cadets and local women together at Pensacola. Below, from the Bureau of Aeronautics Newsletter of September 7, 1927, we find several letters incoming to the Pensacola commanding officer from young officers with "interest" for the young women with "interest."

Bureau of Aeronautics Newsletter, September 7, 1927 (Source: Webmaster)
Bureau of Aeronautics Newsletter, September 7, 1927 (Source: Webmaster)

Mr. Thornton continues, "Don and my Mother had one daughter... my [half]sister [born in 1930].... For whatever the reason, that marriage only lasted about 4 years." And further, "The 1930 Escambia County Florida census shows Lt. Don Smith, my Mother, and their daughter living [in Pensacola]." This would make their separation sometime in 1931. Mrs. Smith remarried in 1935 to another naval officer, Joseph Thomas Thornton, Sr., the father of our correspondent.

Smith remarried too, at Yuma, AZ on November 28, 1934, and took on responsibility for a step son and two step daughters. His second wife (nee: Sophie Thompson of Henderson, KY), was born in Maryland December 18, 1897 and died in California May 20, 1991.

According to Mr. Thornton, Smith was a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy Class of 1921. He began his flight training in Pensacola during July, 1926 and was designated a student Naval Aviator on August 16th. He was designated Naval Aviator on June 1, 1927, promoted to Lt. (jg) on July 15, 1927 and to Lieutenant June 26, 1929. He was not a star pupil, as indicated in the following report of his grades for primary training dated May 7, 1927.

D.F. Smith, Grade Report, Primary Training, Pensacola, FL, May 7, 1927 (Source: Thornton)
D.F. Smith, Grade Report, Primary Training, Pensacola, FL, May 7, 1927 (Source: Thornton)

Don and Lottie had a very large wedding in Pensacola. The news article that covered the affair appeared in the Pensacola Journal of Friday, June 3, 1927. The copy is not good quality. The photograph of the bride, left, is an indication.

Mrs. Donald F. (Lottie) Smith, June, 1927 (Source: Thornton)
Mrs. Donald F. (Lottie) Smith, June, 1927 (Source: Thornton)

 

But, the article describes in society detail the "artistic decorations" and the design and composition of the bride's dress worn by "a vision of girlish beauty." It was a, "... gown of white chiffon, fashioned with a plain waist and a full skirt ..." and a, "... veil of flesh colored tulle, caught with orange blossoms." The music, played on piano and violin and sung, was "Out of the Dusk to You," "Because," "The Bridal Chorus" by Lohengrin, and "The Indian Love Call."

"During the evening delicious strawberry ice cream, in the shape of roses, individual cakes, mints, almonds and punch were served by a bevy of attractive young girls ...." The Journal goes on to mention that Mrs. Smith, "... has always been one of Pensacola's most popular and beautiful girls. ... and three years ago represented her city as 'Miss Pensacola' at the Atlantic City National Beauty Pageant. She is a member of the class of 1925 of the Pensacola High School." They took a, "... short wedding trip, after which they will return to Pensacola and will occupy an attractive cottage on the Bay shore."

Mr. Thornton didn't know his mother's first husband, our pilot D.F. Smith. He has no photographs. He says, "My records show that Capt. Smith was frequently listed as both Donald F. and D.F. Smith. So ... the register fits.... I do not have any photos of him but I do remember seeing one or more of his photos. As a young man, he was tall ( over 6') and slender."

Coincidentally, Smith appears on dmairfield.org as "Don Smith" in the 1928 Los Angeles National Air Races panoramic photograph which you can view at the link. His is the 13th name from the left. His description as tall and slender is just how the pilot "Don Smith" looks in the photo. At the top of this page, thumbs hooked in his pockets, I have enlarged Smith's image from that panorama.

Smith transitioned through a series of assignments during the 1930s, from China to the Philippines, Europe and the Canal Zone. A typical progression of responsibilities for a valued officer. Among papers supplied by Mr. Thornton is an authorization for Smith's wife and step children to sail via the Panama Pacific ocean liner S.S. California from Wilmington, CA to Cristobal, C.Z. in 1935. Relatedly, the California, built in 1926, was sunk by German bombs during WWII on July 12, 1943 off Spain at position 41’51”N 15’24”W.

Interestingly, in 1937 Smith was involved in the search near Howland Island in the Pacific for Amelia Earhart, Fred Noonan and their Lockheed Model 10E Electra after it failed to reach Howland Island during the Pacific legs of their famously incomplete round-the-world flight. Scrambled aboard the U.S.S. Lexington, Smith commanded the squadron VS-2 consisting of eleven Vought SBU-1 scouts. A photo of the aircraft type is at the link.

New York Times, June 9, 1939 (Source: NASM)
New York Times, June 9, 1939 (Source: NASM)

 

The Lexington left San Diego on July 4, 1937. By the 9th, the Lexington was in Pearl Harbor, fueled and departed for Howland Island, arriving there on the 13th to begin the search eleven days after Earhart and Noonan were reported missing. It was a real exercise in logistics and speed to get the carrier force from San Diego to the south Pacific in that short time. According to a history of the U.S.S. Ranger, whose aircraft also participated, the search officially ended on the 18th at 1653. The search covered an area more than half the size of the state of Texas, to a density of a half-mile. Earhart, Noonan and their airplane remain missing to this day.

Six months later, on January 26, 1938, we find among his documents a report from the flight surgeon stating , upon routine physical examination, a defect that Smith weighed 212 pounds at a height of 74 inches. It was recommended that he reduce his weight to 200 pounds within 90 days and report for reexamination. The recommendation was satisfied.

At some point he was made Lt. Commander and assigned to the Naval Reserve Aviation Base at Floyd Bennett Field, Brooklyn, NY. At right and below are two news articles that cover the transition of the base at Floyd Bennett Field to and from Don Smith. He acquired the responsibility in 1939 and turned it over in April, 1941.

 

New York Times, August 16, 1941 (Source: NASM)
New York Times, August 16, 1941 (Source: NASM)

According to documents supplied by Mr. Thornton, Smith was engaged in recruiting during 1940-41. Among them are orders cut for his travel to various colleges and universities to speak to potential Navy candidates. Smith was promoted to Captain June 20, 1942 as WWII was spooling up. He served as navigator on the USS Wasp, flagship of Adm. Forest Sherman in the battle of Guadalcanal August-September, 1942. He had joined the Wasp during July, 1941.

There are several orders and memoranda among his documents that cite and praise Smith's duties during WWII of creating and building air transport methods for the Naval Air Transport Service (NATS). There are several memos that cite his contributions to moving large tonnages of freight to England just prior to the Normandy Invasion, and to Central America in support of shipping to the Pacific Theater.

Later in his career he was the Captain of the U.S.S. Boxer out of San Diego. The Boxer was an Essex-class aircraft carrier, and Smith commanded it from April, 1945 to June, 1946. It was launched too late to see combat during WWII. His Boxer captaincy was considered his "most significant duty assignment" on his naval separation papers. He was assigned as commander of the Naval Air Station at Quonset Point, RI January 21, 1948.

An interesting window into Smith's personality was published in Time Magazine May 2, 1949. It describes an incident that would today be called elitism on the part of then Captain Smith. Annually, the Navy's Quonset Point Air Station, of which Smith was commandant, provided a formal Charity Ball for the, "... 3,900 sailors and civilian personnel. This year, the big feature was the election of 'Miss Quonset Point.' The triumphant queen was to be crowned at the ball; the commandant would escort her in the grand march. Everyone who bought a ticket got a vote, and sales were brisk."

"Miss Quonset Point," by overwhelming vote, was the woman who swept up in the large Overhaul and Repair shop on base. She was described by Time as, "... [age] 43, the wife of a disabled World War I veteran, mother of five children, and plain." But, she was a valued friend to Navy and civilian workers alike. Everyone knew her as a mother figure who listened to their troubles and smiled at their jokes. She was a warm presence among hard workers. She received 500 votes.

This "amazed" Captain Smith, who said that the contest had, "degenerated into a farce." He had the committee call off the march. The committee explained, "The good captain didn't want to be seen walking down the aisle with a sweep woman on his arm." Promptly, 800 ticket buyers turned in their tickets. One was quoted, "If this contest is for the lieutenants' girl friends, then let the lieutenants go to the ball. I'm not." With that, the Queen declined to attend the Ball.

However, with much cajoling, she finally relented and agreed to attend. Her supporters took her shopping for a complete new outfit and a visit to a beauty parlor. Signs went up saying, "Our Queen ... will be there tonight -- how about you?" They picked her up in a 1949 Lincoln. Four thousand attended and the Queen, nervous, was in the receiving line. Captain Smith arrived and breezed past her without a word.

Later, Smith still refused to escort the duly-elected Queen. When the grand march came, Smith chose to be escorted by his second wife. Nobody was crowned "Miss Quonset Point."

To balance this, the following unsolicited letter to the Secretary of the Navy from a local USO participant praises Smith for his morale building.

Letter of Commendation, USO, Providence, RI, March 2, 1950 (Source: Thornton)
Letter of Commendation, USO, Providence, RI, March 2, 1950 (Source: Thornton)

Smith retired from the Navy on June 30, 1951.

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Donald L.J. Smith (R), With "Elf," Oakland Tribune, August, 1928 (Source: Gerow)
Donald L.J. Smith (R), With "Elf," Oakland Tribune, August, 2=1928 (Source: Gerow)

 

Afternote: Save yourself some time. There are many Donald Smiths in recent history. A lot of them showed up as simply "Don Smith" when I was researching this page. Some of them, like our Donald F. Smith, were aviators. If you are researching our pilot, please note that Donald F. Smith is not the same person as the designer of the "Elf" homebuilt airplane, Donald L. J. Smith. At left, from an August, 1928 issue of the Oakland Tribune, is Donald L.J. Smith standing by his diminutive "Elf" under the wing of an Albatross B1. Although tall and lanky, he is not our pilot. Site visitors Mike Gerow and John Underwood helped determine the difference.

 

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Dossier 2.2.162

THIS PAGE UPLOADED: 03/02/11 REVISED: 10/03/11

 
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Thanks to Mike Gerow for researching Lt. Smith and finding J.T. Thornton, III. Both were helpful in providing information for this page.

I'm looking for further information and photographs of Smith and his airplane to include on this page. If you have some you'd like to share, please click this FORM to contact me.

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http://www.cafepress.com/content/global/img/spacer.gifThe Congress of Ghosts is an anniversary celebration for 2010.  It is an historical biography, that celebrates the 5th year online of www.dmairfield.org and the 10th year of effort on the project dedicated to analyze and exhibit the history embodied in the Register of the Davis-Monthan Airfield, Tucson, AZ. This book includes over thirty people, aircraft and events that swirled through Tucson between 1925 and 1936. It includes across 277 pages previously unpublished photographs and texts, and facsimiles of personal letters, diaries and military orders. Order your copy at the link, or use this FORM to order a copy signed by the author.  ISBN 978-0-9843074-4-9.

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