Charles W. Smith
Smithy (pronounced “Smitty”) was the pilot of Herman’s B-17 crew and of the Liberty Lady. Don Courson, waist gunner on The Liberty Lady, told me recently that Smithy and Herman were like brothers. He and Herman stayed in touch through the years. I believe the last time they physically saw each other was in 1991 when my parents flew to Minneapolis to visit relatives and made a side trip to Maine to visit Smithy. After our mother died in 2007, he called several times to see how our Dad was holding up.
Smithy wrote that as a Private in Bangor, Maine, he was in a movie theater on December 7, 1941 … the day that has lived in infamy … when the film suddenly stopped and the announcement was made, “All military personnel return to the Air Base.” And that’s when it really began …
2nd Lt. Smith received his pilot wings at Roswell, New Mexico on May 20, 1943. A few months later he was at Moses Lake, Washington, meeting his B-17 crew for the first time.
Lt. Smith’s last B-17 flight over Europe was on December 18, 1944 … the Battle of the Bulge. He had flown 30 missions in all. In January of 1945 he returned to the US. Over the years he had many flying jobs, including one in Lima, Peru.
In 1977, Charlie moved to Deer Isle, Maine. This was the address and phone number I had when I began my research. I first tried to call him in the middle of last year. I never got an answer but didn’t worry about it … figured he might be visiting his children. Found his email address in Herman’s computer and sent an email – no answer there either. Then right before Christmas I called once more … the line had been disconnected! I panicked. Spent an hour googling his name and his address and found an announcement of his grandson’s wedding. From there I tracked down Smithy’s son. Sadly, I was too late.
Herman’s good friend and the pilot of his crew, Charles W. Smith, died quietly on Monday, November 24, 2008 at the home of his son. Geoff wrote me about a conversation they had during those last months, the hardest one ever, “Dad, you’re dying …”
Dad had done a thousand landings, including one in his crippled B-17 in a field on a Swedish island with the wheels up on the first Allied daylight raid to Berlin. He knew how to do this.
“It will be a gradual glideslope,” I said, my hand imitating a B-17 or Gulfstream 2 on long final approach. “It will be gentle…no pain.” He nodded, seeing it in his mind, possibly even thinking about the flap and power settings.
And so it was. Whether he was landing, or taking off, he did it so quietly that we didn’t know he’d flared, or rotated, until after he was gone.
Last week when I stayed with Herman during his recovery from eye surgery, I showed him the pictures of the B-17 I had ridden in. He enjoyed seeing the photos but didn’t seem to remember that he was there, way back then.
Shortly afterward he went to his bed to lie down. I thought he was asleep.
Suddenly, eyes closed, he asked, “Patti, what was the name of my co-pilot?”
“Merle Brown, Daddy … M.P.”
“And didn’t you tell me that Smithy has been taken from us?”
“Yes, Daddy, Smithy’s gone.”