Chester H. “Chet” Smith, a former Nevada newspaperman who witnessed the flag-raising at Iwo Jima as a Marine Corps war correspondent in World War II and went on to become a top aide to Nevada Senators Ted Carville, Pat McCarran and Alan Bible, died last week in Alexandria, Virginia.
He was 85 and died at Mt. Vernon Hospital after surgery for a malignant brain tumor.
Smith also served on the campaign staffs of presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson.
“He was a excellent government employee, No. 1,” said Jack Carpenter of Dayton, who worked on Bible’s staff with Smith. “You wouldn’t find a harder worker or a more honest man.”
Born in Burns, Oregon, on May 24, 1919 and brought up in Winnemucca, Smith joined the staff of the Humboldt Star newspaper as a high school senior. When the newspaper’s publisher, Rollin Stitser, died unexpectedly three years later, Stitser’s widow Avery named the 20-year-old Smith editor of the newspaper.
It was a job he embraced from the start.
“Because of my insatiable curiosity to know everything that went on around me and to write about it, I spent long hours seven days a week at it because newspapering fascinated me,” Smith wrote in a 1988 letter to the late Reno Gazette-Journal columnist Rollan Melton.
“He was really proud of his work with the old Humboldt Star,” said Dwight Dyer, a longtime friend who also served on Bible’s staff. “He loved to talk about those days.”
In 1942, Smith enlisted in the Marine Corps and became a combat correspondent. He was assigned to the 5th Marine Division in the Pacific Theater, taking part in the invasions of Guam and Iwo Jima, where he witnessed the raising of the U.S. flag. He also was wounded by shrapnel from a mortar shell, and received a Purple Heart.
“He went through lots of the big battles of the Pacific, the biggest of which was Iwo Jima,” Dyer said.
“He’d tell a lot of tales about that. He was very proud of his part with the Marines.”
After the war, Smith went to college on the G.I. Bill, earning undergraduate and law degrees at George Washington University.
He started his long career in public service on the staff of Nevada Sen. Ted Carville, while attending college. He then worked two stints with Sen. Pat McCarran, returning to Nevada in between to serve as an executive assistant and state budget director for Governor Charles Russell.
In 1954, Smith was at McCarran’s side when the senator dropped dead from a stroke during a campaign stop in Hawthorne. He then joined Bible’s staff as the senator’s executive secretary and served in a variety of capacities through Bible’s four terms in office.
“He was probably one of the top government employees that ever hit Washington,” Carpenter said. “He’d work all night and all day. But he loved it.”
Smith was twice widowed. He married Elizabeth Pence in 1948. She died in 1974. His second wife, Miriam Fox died in 2000. They had married in 1975.
He is survived by his two daughters, Anne Ponsen of Alexandria, Virginia, and Sandra Hilburn of Greenville, South Carolina.
Services will be held Friday at Aldersgate Methodist Church in Alexandria with burial on Monday at Arlington National Cemetery.
SMITH, CHESTER HORACE
TSGT US MARINE CORPS
- DATE OF BIRTH: 05/24/1919
- DATE OF DEATH: 02/22/2005
- BURIED AT: SECTION 66 SITE 5800
ARLINGTON NATIONAL CEMETERY
Michael Robert Patterson was born in Arlington and is the son of a former officer of the US Army. So it was no wonder that sooner or later his interests drew him to American history and especially to American military history. Many of his articles can be found on renowned portals like the New York Times, Washingtonpost or Wikipedia.
Reviewed by: Michael Howard