First Lieutenant Thomas Vernon “Tommy” Smith (1918 – 1945)
13th Army Air Force, B25 Pilot, WWII – Pacific, KIA
Remembering – First Lieutenant Thomas Vernon Smith – MZHS “Hero of Air Power
After graduating from Weedville High in 1935, Thomas V. Smith (aka Tommy), a son of Cecil and Myrtle Gardner Smith of Gardner Hill, went to work for Bell Aircraft in Buffalo, NY. While there, his interest in aviation was sparked. As the World War progressed, Tom decided to follow his passion and he enlisted in the Army Air Forces in February, 1943. He attended pre- flight school at Maxwell Air Field, Alabama, and earned his silver pilot’s wings for the B25 Mitchell Bomber and his lieutenant bars.
In November 1944, he received his overseas assignment to New Guinea as a B25 pilot in the 100th Bomb Squadron, 42nd Bomb Group of the 13th Army Air Force in the Solomon Islands in the Pacific Theater. His squadron participated in bombing raids against Japanese targets in the South Pacific. During this time, the 13th Air Force staged out of tropical jungles on remote islands involving the Gilbert and Marshall Islands campaign, Mariana and Palau Islands campaign, and the Philippines campaign during 1944 and 1945. They were known by the nickname, “The Jungle Air Force.”
While on a bombing mission in the Philippines on April 8th, 1945, pilot Lt Thomas V Smith’s B25, flying in formation and flying through a cloud bank, met disaster (probably a mid air collision) somewhere above the Sulu Sea in the Southwest Pacific off the Island of Palawan, Philippines. Tom’s body was never recovered. He was initially listed as MIA (missing in action) but later changed to KIA (killed in action). Among other campaign medals, citations (Philippines Presidential Unit citation) and ribbons, Tom also received the Purple Heart for his ultimate sacrifice.
He is memorialized in the Tablets of the Missing in the Manila American Cemetery and Memorial in Fort Bonifacio, Philippines which honors the American and allied servicemen who died fighting the Japanese in World War II. The American Battle Monuments Commission maintains the American Cemetery in remembrance of the American servicemen who gave their lives for freedom’s cause in the Pacific.
A stone marker also was placed by his family in the Gardner Hill Cemetery beside the graves of his father (who died shortly before Tom) and by his beloved and forever grieving mother who passed away in 1988.
The Mt Zion Historical Society is proud to honor Thomas V Smith as a Valley “Hero of Air Power”.
Remembering – Lieutenant Thomas V. Smith by Evo G. Facchine
Thomas V. Smith was the son of Cecil and Myrtle M. Gardner Smith of Gardner Hill. He was the fifth of seven children, four girls, three boys. Cecil Smith died in 1941 due to kidney failure as the result of an earlier farm accident. Tom’s mother, the former Myrtle Gardner lived to be 101 years of age. At age 100 she still enjoyed good health, raising house plants, watching TV and visiting with friends and relatives.
Again the Gardner name appears, and here we find a relationship between Tom and some of our other heroes of World War II. Tom was the second cousin of Calvin and Theodore Gardner. In addition, Tom, Calvin and Theodore were all second cousins of Staff Sergeant Thomas F. Bricen, Jr., the subject of a future article.
Tommy as he was known to relatives and friends was born and raised in Gardner Hill, he attended and graduated from Weedville High School, Class of 1935. With the lack of employment opportunities in the area, Tom like so many others from the Valley, moved to Buffalo, NY, where he was employed at the Bell Aircraft Corporation prior to entering military service. His interest in flying became an ambition during his employment with Bell Aircraft.
He enlisted in the Army Air Corp in February of 1943. He attended Preflight School, Class 44-D at Maxwell Field in Alabama. Charles (Leonard) Smith, his younger brother, who still resides in the homestead in Gardner Hill, has in his possession the Preflight Yearbook with signatures of Tom’s classmates, much like a high school yearbook. There is no question that he was popular with his classmates.
He received his commission as a Second Lieutenant on May 23, 1944. He was later promoted to First Lieutenant after earning his wings as a pilot and aircraft commander of a B-25 Mitchell Bomber. In November of 1944, he received his overseas assignment to New Guinea from which point he participated in raids against Japanese Installations in the South Pacific. He was a member of the 100th Bomb Squadron, 13th Air Force.
While Lieutenant Thomas V. Smith was stationed in the South Pacific, his two brothers were also in the military. Younger brother Charles was a member of the 13th Armored Division stationed in California. He was back in Michigan attending a specialty school when his outfit went overseas. He was fortunate to have never left the States.
Older brother Oliver, or “Bussie” as he was known, was a Colonel in the Infantry and served in Germany. He survived the war and after his discharge from the service resided in Columbus, GA. He continued his career as a consultant to the military installation in Fort Benning, GA. Approximately four years ago, Colonel Smith, went to his backyard one morning to do some planting. Later when his wife was to join him, she found their dog in it’s cage, sprayed with pepper spray. Colonel Oliver Smith had disappeared and to this day his whereabouts is still unknown despite a continuing search by the Military.
Lieutenant Thomas V. Smith met his untimely death on April 8th, 1944 while on a bombing mission in the Philippines. The telegram stated the location as somewhere in the Sulu Sea in the Southwest Pacific off the Island of Palawan. The Sulu Sea was the scene of a major battle between the United States and Japanese naval and air forces.
Like so many other heroes of World War II, Lieutenant Thomas V. Smith’s body was never recovered. A stone marker can be found in the Gardner Hill Cemetery beside those of his father and mother. A mother, who prayed each day of the rest of her life for her son lost at sea, half way around the world from her. One can easily imagine that in those days from 1944 until her death in 1997, as she daily watered those flowers, that her thoughts must surely have turned to her son, Tommy, in his watery grave in the depths of the Sulu Sea.
Lest We Forget…