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Bridge Dedicated In Honor of Navy Captain

By Staff | Aug 22, 2018

Photos by Ed Parsons Friends and family of the late U.S. Navy Captain Homer Leroy Smith gather in front of the sign which marks the bridge dedicated in the late U.S. Navy Captain Smith’s honor.

Although conditions were wet and overcast, there was a notable turnout of friends, family, neighbors and dignitaries gathered at the Centerville Bridge site in Alma on Saturday, Aug. 18, for the dedication and naming of the bridge in honor of the late U.S. Navy Captain Homer Leroy Smith, a 1943 graduate of Tyler County High School and an American hero.

Smith was born in Alma on February 6, 1926 to Lotus Smith and Mary Pierpoint Smith. Captain Smith spent his boyhood in Alma and after graduation, 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.

Upon graduation from the U.S. Naval Academy on June 3, 1949, Captain Smith 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.

The Honor Guard salutes the late U.S. Navy Captain Homer Leroy Smith.

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.

Several state and local officials were present for the Aug. 18 bridge dedication, and the Honor Guard was on site to offer the prayer, give a gun salute, and unveil the signs marking the entrance to the bridge.

WV State Delegate from Tyler County, Roger Romine, authored WV House Resolution 91, which brought the bridge dedication to fruition. Delegate Romine spoke to the large crowd about the history of Smith and his service to his country. Romine noted Captain Smith paid the ultimate sacrifice when he was shot down over Vietnam during a routine flight.

Romine also invited family members to speak. One of those was Smith’s daughter who said her father was a hero who “would have loved to be around today to see his family and friends, but in 1966, he gave his life for the freedom of this great country. “She tearfully said she loved him and admired his courage and his skill as a pilot.

Others present besides Romine and over 20 family members were WV State Senator Charles Clements, Tyler County Commissioner David Kelly, Gladys Gregg, Tyler County Sheriff Brian Weigle and numerous other local residents.

Following the dedication, a free dinner was offered to all at the Alma Fire Hall.

The U.S. Navy Captain Homer Leroy Smith bridge will forever keep the memory and name of this American hero alive in Tyler County.