Civilian Career and Honoring Lieutenant Colonel Jimmie Dyess
Lessons Learned from World War 2
Perry Smith was born at West Point, New York in 1934 while his father was serving as an instructor at the US Military Academy from where he had graduated many years before. He was one of two children. Being the son of a career Army officer, Smith moved frequently. His father had specialized in the coast artillery and by the summer of 1940 was a battery commander stationed in Hawaii. Smith attended three different schools during the roughly 18 months he spent on Oahu. Life in Hawaii was fun for Smith and his sister. There was much to do. As with every other Sunday, on the morning of 7 December 1941, Smith, his sister and several other children of Army personnel stationed in the area had been picked up by a soldier in a large truck and were being driven to Sunday school at Fort DeRussy. During the ride to the fort they began hearing the sounds of explosions. The driver continued on to Fort DeRussy but when he arrived at the gate a captain ordered him to turn the truck around and bring the children back to their homes. Smith was frightened by the sudden change of events and was glad to see his mother standing in the front yard of their home when the truck arrived at their house. Smith and his sister were given a tight hug by their mother, something she did not do often, then were ushered into the basement of their house where they spent the rest of the day. Over the following weeks, Smith helped one of his neighbors dig a bomb shelter by hand. Within several weeks, Smith and his sister returned to school but that did not last long. They were shipped back to the United States mainland in February 1942 and went to live with one of his uncles in St. Cloud, Minnesota. Minnesota was a big change from Hawaii but Smith made it through. By the end of the war, his father had been assigned as the operations officer for the US Military Government in Italy and had moved the family there. In the fall of 1946, the Smiths were living in Athens when the Greek civil war kicked up. Six years later, in 1952, Smith followed in his father's footsteps and attended the US Military Academy at West Point. He wanted to be a fighter pilot so upon graduating in 1956 he selected to serve in the US Air Force.
By the end of the war, Perry Smith's father had been assigned as the operations officer for the US Military Government in Italy and had moved the family there. In the fall of 1946, the Smiths were living in Athens when the Greek civil war kicked up. His education was accelerated by a wonderful teacher who worked closely with him. Six years later, in 1952, Smith followed in his father's footsteps and attended the US Military Academy at West Point. He would later receive a PhD at Columbia University. Perry wanted to be a fighter pilot so upon graduating West Point in 1956 he selected to serve in the US Air Force.
Perry Smith wanted to fly fighters. He joined the Air Force and was able to do so. He flew many different fighters during the Cold War. He was too young for the Korean War, but he flew in the Vietnam War. He achieved the rank of colonel and then general officer. The focus after Vietnam was the Russian and Chinese threats. Terrorism had not yet become a serious threat. The Domino Theory was the prevalent defense strategy. It was a faulty theory but the basis of the national defense. Quick reaction to any threat was the emphasis until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Asymmetric threats from terrorism were not envisioned at that time. The concern about atomic warfare was reduced with the termination of the Soviet threat. Smith retired in 1986 as a major general after 30 years of service.
Perry Smith retired from the military in 1986. He became an author and consultant on military issues for various national media and has taught at several military institutions. Smith has committed to honoring the legacy of his wife's father, Lieutenant Colonel Jimmie Dyess. Dyess was recognized with the nation's two highest awards for heroism. He earned both the Medal of Honor and the Carnegie Medal. Dyess is the only individual to be so recognized. Smith has devoted himself to having Augusta [Annotator's Note: Augusta, Georgia] recognize him.
Perry Smith saw the Second World War as a turning point for the United States. No longer could the nation back out of involvement with the rest of the world as it had done after World War 1 and even the Spanish-American War that preceded it. The Pearl Harbor attack caught the country unprepared. It is imperative to watch out for bad people in the world like Hitler or Mussolini [Annotator's Note: German dictator Adolf Hitler and Italian dictator Benito Mussolini]. The war brought the country into the Arsenal of Democracy where it eventually produced more than all the Axis powers combined. Our country can do things well if it wants to do so. Today's military is stretched but still effective. It has served us well and is very well respected, unlike during the Vietnam War. Rebuilding the world through the Marshall Plan was a big plus in restraining the Communists after the war. World War 2 provided great lessons in leadership and planning. The nation even planned for the postwar world. Smith wrote a book on the topic titled "Wartime Planning for Postwar Contingencies: The United States Air Force Example." The lesson of postwar planning was not always applied to later wars. The book "Freedom's Forge" is a book that tells the story of the Arsenal of Democracy. The wonderful museum in New Orleans [Annotator's Note: The National WWII Museum] will continue to promote those stories. The lesser known successful military operations in the Marshalls should get more attention for their significance. Focus on Medal of Honor recipients is also important. Smith was on the Board of the Medal of Honor Foundation for ten years and got to know many of the honorees.
Perry Smith worked with CNN during the Gulf War as a military advisor. He also worked with CBS and Brian Williams and Dan Rather. The military felt that the media was prejudiced against them during the Vietnam War. In retrospect, Westmoreland [Annotator's Note: US Army General William Westmoreland] was incompetent. The fault in the war was not at the lower echelons of the military but all the way at the top. Returning veterans were treated with unjustified disrespect. Smith flew combat missions over Vietnam with a highly decorated squadron. On one mission, he aided a downed airman in Laos. The man had parachuted out of the plane but had been injured. Smith maintained contact with him until he could be extracted. When he was rescued, he was so covered with blood that he was almost dropped during the evacuation to the helicopter above. Smith also escorted C-130 gunships which disrupted traffic on the Ho Chi Minh Trail. His fighter's job was to shoot any antiaircraft firing on the C-130. On one occasion, the enemy fire on the C-130 was so intense that Smith ordered him out. The pilot had managed to light up the first and last vehicle on the trail so that the fighters could destroy the enemy trucks with their ordnance. Smith took a liberty with his wing commander. The commander had completed his last combat mission. Pilots had a tradition for a fellow pilot to be thrown over the bar and circle back around to buy everyone drinks after his last mission. Smith did so and the commander felt he had successfully completed his tour as a combat pilot.
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