DeWitt C. Smith, Jr. – Lieutenant General, United States Army

Retired Lieutenant Gemeral DeWitt C. Smith Jr., the longest-serving commandant of the U.S. Army War College at Carlisle Barracks, died yesterday in New London, Connecticut. He was 84.

Smith served as war college commandant from 1974-77 and again from 1978-1980. He was also a student there in the 1960s.

Major General David H. Huntoon Jr., current commandant of the war college, calls Smith an “outstanding military leader, educator, family man and patriot,” who served his country as a “courageous combat leader.”

“He had a great appreciation for the Carlisle community and a great love for Carlisle Barracks throughout his three remarkable tours of duty here — one as a student and two as the commandant of the Army War College,” Huntoon said in a written statement. “We salute his selfless and distinguished service to the nation.”

Zane Finkelstein, a retired Army Colonel who lives in Carlisle, worked for Smith at the war college as his principal legal adviser and as an instructor in international law and national security.

“General Smith was a fine soldier and a fine gentleman and an asset to anything he took to do,” Finkelstein says. “I don't know of anyone who knew him who is not lesser today because he died.”

Welcomed foreign students

The international students program at the war college started during Smith's tenure, Finkelstein says.

“He welcomed and made comfortable the first group of students who came here” and integrated them into the program, Finkelstein says.

“He was always a general,” Finkelstein says. “For most of us he defined what commitment means, what selfless service means.

“Smith loved Carlisle in a way no other commandant I have known did,” Finkelstein says. “He was on a first-name basis with every pastor and priest in town. He was on a first-name basis with guys that ran the unions and the guys that owned the factory. He was a renaissance man in every sense of the word.”

Set the standard

Cumberland County Chief Clerk John Connolly calls Smith “the commandant's commandant. He became the person against which every other commandant was judged.”

Connolly got to know Smith in 1991 when Connolly was deputy commandant at the war college.

“He was in (General George) Patton's unit during World War II and saw a tremendous amount of combat as an armored-infantry leader,” Connolly says.

Smith had a “tremendously positive attitude,” a wonderful sense of history and was a “magnificent speaker and writer,” Connolly says.

When the brass in Washington, D.C., decided earlier this year to keep Carlisle Barracks and the war college off the base closure list, Smith was pleased.

The war college offers a chance for stressed officers to take a step back and “really think about the important things,” Smith said in May.

He is often credited with molding the war college experience into more than an educational experience.

“He wanted to create an atmosphere where the whole emphasis was on the individual to look within himself or herself to decide what they needed to do education-wise to better prepare themselves to serve their country,” Connolly says. Under Smith, the war college offered a slate of activities and educational programs from which students could choose.

Didn't plan on military

Smith's son, Kevin Smith, who lives in Mechanicsburg, says his father never intended a military career. But with World War II looming, he ran away from home — and Oberlin College — to join the Canadian Army under an assumed name so his father couldn't find him.

His father found him anyway and brought him home to Maryland. The young Smith enrolled at the University of Maryland, where he met his wife, Margaret “Betty” Bond, who lives in Niantic, Connecticut. Smith was drafted as a Private and selected for non-commissioned officers school. He served in World War II with the 4th Armored Division.

Smith was discharged from the Army in 1946 and went into the reserves. Meanwhile, he worked as a congressional reporter for a news service, managed a charitable organization in New York City, then started law school in Boston, Kevin Smith says.

But when the Korean War began, Smith left the reserves and went back into the regular Army.

“He left (the Army) as a captain and had to come back as a First Lieutenant,” Kevin Smith says. “From there, he decided to stay in the Army.”

Serving in 1965-66 as the commander of a brigade in the First Infantry Division in Vietnam, Smith became very ill and came home “weighing 90 pounds,” his son says.

Between Smith's tours of duty at the war college, he worked at the Pentagon as deputy chief of staff for personnel. Smith retired from the Pentagon as a three-star general but came back to the war college at the request of the chief of staff, serving temporarily on active duty.

When Smith retired from the Army for good in 1980, he lived in Carlisle on Hanover Street and started work as director of Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency.

Later, he worked as a consultant for the American Red Cross before moving to Niantic, Conn.

A native of Baltimore, Maryland, he graduated the University of Maryland. He also was a graduate of the Command and General Staff College, the Armed Forces Staff College and the Army War College.

He was awarded an honorary doctor of laws from Dickinson School of Law in Carlisle and was chairman of the board of trustees of the George Marshall Foundation.

Gen. DeWitt C. Smith, 84, Dies; Headed Army War College Twice
By Patricia Sullivan
Courtesy of the Washington Post
Saturday, July 30, 2005

DeWitt C. Smith Jr., 84, former Deputy Chief of Staff of the Army and two-time commandant of the Army War College who was known as a “defense intellectual” and student of the military's role in a democracy, died after a stroke July 21, 2005, at Lawrence & Memorial Hospital in New London, Connecticut. He lived in Niantic, Connecticut.

General Smith was the longest serving commandant at the Army War College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania: from 1974 until 1977 and from 1978 to 1980.

He was one of 49 generals and admirals who signed a public letter to President Bush in March 2004 urging him to postpone operational deployment of a ground-based strategic mid-course ballistic missile defense system. He signed petitions against the use of land mines and publicly raised concerns about the conduct of the war in Iraq.

He was also a soldier's soldier, with combat experience in World War II, Korea and Vietnam. He came under fire in the Dominican Republic while on the staff of the secretary of defense in the mid-1960s.

While personnel chief of the Army, he was quoted in the media on the need for strategists, not just tacticians, in the upper ranks of the military. He felt strongly that military leaders needed to learn how to act as informed servants of a civilian-run democracy.

“Diverse and complex as it is, national security in a free society involves us all,” he said in a widely reprinted 1987 speech at a George C. Marshall ROTC Award Seminar. “It is the child of many parents; it is everyone's business. It is not too ‘secret' for Congress, not too arcane for everyday citizens, or the sole business of the security elite. It is the concern for all the American people.”

General Smith, born in Baltimore and raised in Bethesda, graduated from Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School. He attended Oberlin College in Ohio but, alarmed by Adolf Hitler's rise in Europe, dropped out to join the Canadian army before the United States entered World War II. He enlisted under an assumed name to escape family disapproval, one of Gen. Smith's sons said, but his father discovered what he had done and had him discharged.

In 1942, he joined the U.S. Army as a Private and, after basic training, was sent to noncommissioned officers school, then Officer Candidate School. He fought in the European theater and was awarded the Silver Star, two Bronze Stars and three Purple Hearts.

Discharged in 1946, he finished his college degree at the University of Maryland. He did not intend to pursue a military career, although he joined the reserves. He worked briefly as a wire-service reporter in Washington and then for a charitable organization in New York City.

He returned to active duty for the Korean War and stayed in the military after it ended. He was an aide to Chief of Staff General Maxwell D. Taylor, served in the “Old Guard” at Fort Myer and was a battalion executive officer and commander in Germany.

He then served in staff positions at the Pentagon before going to the Army War College. He was sent to Vietnam in a command position with the 1st Infantry Division, returned to Germany and then to Fort Carson, Colorado. In 1970, under his leadership, Fort Carson was made an initial test site for the modern volunteer Army concept. General Smith was credited with the success of a number of innovations adopted by the Army, including the establishment of a Racial Harmony Council, formed because of several racial incidents at or near the base.

After his stints at the War College, he retired in 1980. He wore two Distinguished Service Medals and four awards of the Legion of Merit on the nine rows of ribbons on his uniform.

General Smith was director of the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency for three years after his military retirement. He was on the board of directors of Harsco Corp. in Harrisburg, Pa., and the George C. Marshall Foundation in Lexington, Virginia. He also worked briefly for the American Red Cross.

He was a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, the International Institute for Strategic Studies and the Infantry OCS Hall of Fame. In 1977, he was the Army's Kermit Roosevelt lecturer in England.

Survivors include his wife of 62 years, Margaret Bond Smith of Niantic; six children, DeWitt C. Smith III of High Springs, Florida, Shelley Smith Flanagan of Gainesville, Florida, Kevin M. Smith Sr. of Upper Allen, Pennsylvania, Betsy Smith Brousseau of Whitby, Ontario, and Dana Smith Jain and Barbara Smith Hart, both of Alamo, California; 13 grandchildren; and one great-granddaughter.

General Smith is is be laid to rest with full military honors in Arlington National Cemetery on 3 October 2005.

  • DATE OF BIRTH: 03/14/1895
  • DATE OF DEATH: 08/10/1958

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