Smith, Joseph A

Joseph Alexander Smith was born on May 29, 1924 to Alexander and Isabella Smith who owned a farm in Copney, County Tryone, Northern Ireland. In 1927 the family sold their farm and immigrated to the United States. They purchased a farm in Oxford where Gerald was born. After a machinery fire caused extensive damage to the farm, the family purchased a farm in Westtown. The stone farmhouse is still there today, located on the northeast corner of Westtown Road and Johnny’s Way. 

Joe’s close friend Leonard remembers him as a quiet, faithful friend, with integrity.  

Joseph attended West Chester High School. The yearbook describes him as:

 “Bashful “Joe” is very partial to swimming, ice-skating, and tennis.  His favorite saying is “How are you doin’?”  If he is not caught in the draft, “Joe” Plans to go to Drexel next year to study aeronautical engineering”
After graduation with the Class of 1942, Joseph attended an aeronautical school in Detroit for one semester, and then enlisted in the Army Air Corps. He received his single engine flight training in Marrite, Ohio, and duel engine training at Ryan Field in Tuscan, Arizona with Squadron 7, Class 44-E. He then received his instrument certification, (flying solely on instruments – sometimes called Blind Flying). He was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant at the age of 18.

Joseph pictured at left with his
advanced trainer aircraft
Joseph was assigned to the CBI (China, Burma, India) Theater of Operations, flying a C-46 Curtiss Commando, the largest and heaviest twin engine aircraft used by our forces during the War. It was a good aircraft, but difficult to fly. He was sent overseas in November, 1944.   Before he left, Joseph received permission from his Commanding Officer to "buzz" his newly rented family farm - Shirley Farms.  He came in from Downingtown and flew low over the fields and waggled his wings, then climbed up at a steep angle for altitude and headed for LaGuardia Airport. Unknown to his family, this would be the last time they saw Joseph. From LaGuardia, he flew to Egypt, then to Burma serving with the 14th Combat Cargo Squadron, Fourth Combat Cargo Group. Some Cargo squadrons in Burma flew the “hump” - a dangerous mission transporting badly needed supplies over the Himalaya Mountains to our forces in China. (Robert Lee Scott’s 1943 book, God is my Co-Pilot, describes the extreme conditions of “flying the hump”. 

Other units such as Joseph’s flew low level supply drop missions to our forces in Burma. These missions were dangerous, and usually if the aircraft returned, it was full of bullet holes.

On July 31, 1945, First Lieutenant Joseph A. Smith died of wounds received from an aircraft accident. His parents received the fateful telegram in early August, followed by a personal letter from Major General Edward F. Witsell, stating Joseph died in the line of duty.

Ironically, Joseph had finished his tour of duty, and was awaiting transport home. His Commanding Officer asked him to fly one more mission to deliver an emergency load of supplies as they were short of pilots. Joseph accepted, and flew someone else’s aircraft. 

Upon his mother’s inquiry, his Commanding Officer, Major Edward C. Hubka, wrote the following in a letter dated September 12, 1945.

 Lieutenant Smith was pilot on the plane. During the take-off run, from Nampanmaoe Air Field, Myitkyina Burma, the left engine quit and Lt. Smith was forced to pull the loaded airplane into the air. He exhibited great skill in getting the airplane off the ground but the greatest altitude he could attain was approximately 100 feet when the plane slowly begin to settle. Lieutenant Smith tried to make a river with the intention of crash landing, but he found he could not successfully make it. He used excellent judgment in trying for a clearing in the jungle which, unfortunately was too far away. After the crash, his co-pilot flight officer Robert V. Moon was able to clear himself immediately from the wreckage; however, upon noticing that Lieutenant Smith could not get out of the cockpit, Flight Officer Moon went back into the plane and successfully pulled Lieutenant Smith from the plane to safety. Within twenty minutes, Lieutenant Smith was placed in an ambulance and rushed to the 48th Evacuation Hospital in Myitkyina, Burma.

Lieutenant Smith was on a mission of carrying valuable and urgently needed cargo to our forces in China and was directly aiding our war against Japan.

 Lieutenant Smith was buried in a beautiful little cemetery containing only fallen American men, in Myitkyina Burma with full military honors.  An Army Chaplin of Protestant faith presided over his burial. Fellow officers and close friends were his guards of honor. After the Chaplain committed him to his grave, three volleys were fired by a rifle a squad and taps were played. Then each man in the squadron filed past his grave and gave their final tribute to a fallen comrade with a salute.

 Lieutenant Smith was will known by all, and commanded the respect and admiration of every man in the squadron. His cheerful smile and his desire to do more then his share against our enemy Japan, will always be remembered. Without fail, he carried out his duties thoroughly and efficiently. He was on of the most skillful pilots in the squadron. His loss to the squadron and his country will only be exceeded by your loss of his as a loving son.”

Joseph received the Air Medal with three Oak Leaf Clusters (in lieu of three additional Air Medals), and the Distinguished Flying Cross, before his death.


Research by Don Wambold, WCMSC
Smith Joseph A Grave