DOH To Honor Captain Smith
West Virginia Bridge Number 48-18-10.11, locally known as Centerville Bridge – carrying WV 18 over Middle Island Creek in Tyler County, will be dedicated on Saturday, August 18 as the “U.S. Navy CAPT. Homer Leroy Smith Memorial Bridge.”
The naming of the bridge came about as the result of House Resolution 91, sponsored by Delegates R. Romine, Evans, A., Hamilton, McGeehan, Jennings, Rowan, Pethtel and Ferron.
Captain Homer Leroy Smith was born in Alma on February 6, 1926, to Lotus Smith and Mary Pierpoint Smith. Captain Smith spent his boyhood there and graduated from Tyler County High School in 1943. He entered the Navy’s V-5 program in early 1944 and was sent to Bethany College as a student. Captain Smith then attended Notre Dame University, and while, there received an appointment to the U.S. Naval Academy from the late Hubert Ellis, congressman from West Virginia’s Fourth Congressional District.
Lloyd Gregg of Sistersville was instrumental in securing his appointment to the Naval Academy at Annapolis.
Captain Smith entered the Naval Academy in 1945 and upon graduation on June 3, 1949, was commissioned an Ensign in the Navy. In 1950, Captain Smith married Jean Pankowski of Philadelphia, and they had four children – Deborah, Steven, Pamela, and Michael.
In August 1950 Captain Smith reported for flight training and was designated a Naval Aviator in September 1951. From 1956 to 1959 and in 1963 he was enrolled in the Navy’s post-graduate education program. In 1963, Captain Smith completed the company and staff course at the Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island. In addition to a Bachelor of Science Degree from the U.S. Naval Post-Graduate School, he also earned a Master’s Degree in International Relations from George Washington University and a Professional Engineering degree in Aeronautical Engineering from the California Institute of Technology.
During his Naval career, Captain Smith had a variety of duty assignments. Early in his career he served on the destroyers USS Frank E. Evans and USS Hank, in both the Atlantic and Pacific fleets. After flight training, Captain Smith spent three years in Fighter Squadron 33 aboard the USS Levte and USS Midway. He was associated with the Naval Air Reserve Program as a flight instructor at NSS Akron, Ohio and was in charge of instruction of second class midshipmen in engineering during a tour of duty at the U.S. Naval Academy.
During a three-year tour of duty in Air Wing 15 aboard USS Coral Sea in the Pacific, Captain Smith served as Operations Officer of Attack Squadron 155 and later as Air Wing Operations Officer. Captain Smith also served as the Executive Officer of Attack Squadron 212, a component of Air Wing 21. The squadron, home-based at the Naval Air Station, Lemoore, California, was on its eighth cruise to the Far East. The squadron was one of the Navy’s most important offensive weapons systems. It was capable of carrying the following armament: twenty mm cannon, air to ground rockets, air to ground missiles and a variety of conventional and nuclear bombs.
On June 30, 1966, Captain Smith led a strike group of 12 A4, 4F8 and other support aircraft from the USS Hancock in an extremely hazardous and important attack against the Bac Giang Petroleum Storage Area, 20 miles northeast of Hanoi, Vietnam. On October 11, 1966 on the Naval Air Station, Lemoore, California, he was awarded the Silver Star for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity for that mission. Captain Smith was also presented his second award of the Distinguished Flying Cross, his tenth, eleventh and twelfth awards of the Air Medal, and his second and third awards of the Navy Commendation Medal with combat distinguishing device during that ceremony.
While serving as Executive Officer of Attack Squadron, 212 missions were flown during the first year. Captain Smith was on his 183rd mission and was ready to return to his home base in California when he was shot down at Bac Giang, Vietnam on May 20, 1967. His remains were brought to Annapolis, Maryland for burial May 29, 1974. Services were held in the Chapel at Navel Academy for interment at the Navy Cemetery at Annapolis.
Having made the ultimate sacrifice for his country and community, it is appropriate to name the bridge in honor of Captain Homer Leroy Smith. By the resolution of the Delegates, the Division of Highways are requested to name the above-mentioned bridge in Captain Smith’s name and to place signs identifying the bridge as the “U.S. Navy CAPT. Homer Leroy Smith Memorial Bridge.
Families and friends are encouraged to attend this special event.