Peter Sterling Smith – Captain, United States Army


Peter Sterling Smith, 82, a career cruiser and destroyer naval officer, who was a naval gunnery expert and whose command was once praised as the “Champs of the Pacific Destroyer Force” died March 17, 2001 at Fairfax Hospital. He suffered from alzheimer's disease.

Captain Smith was born in Kansas City, Kansas and graduated with the Class of 1942 from the U.S. Naval Academy when that class was commissioned six months early because of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941.

Entering the war as an Ensign, Smith served on two destroyers and ended the war as a Lieutenant Commander. As Gunnery Officer aboard his first ship, USS WINSLOW (DD-359), he participated in antisubmarine warfare operations against German  submarines in the Southern Atlantic between Brazil and Africa. In 1944, Smith was ordered to  Bath, Maine to outfit and become the commissioning Gunnery Officer aboard destroyer USS  BENNER (DD-807). In the last months of the war, BENNER joined Halsey's Third Fleet in the  final strikes against the Japanese homeland.

After World War II, Smith was the Navigator aboard light cruiser USS  PROVIDENCE (CL-82) operating out of Newport, Rhode Island, with seven month tours in the Mediterranean with the U.S Sixth Fleet. During the Korean War, Smith was the commissioning Gunnery Officer aboard heavy cruiser USS SALEM (CA-139) which was the Flagship of the Sixth Fleet in the Mediterranean. In March 1951 as Commanding Officer, he recommissioned destroyer escort USS MCCOY REYNOLDS (DE-440) and commenced operations out of Pearl Harbor with tours in the western Pacific with the U.S. Seventh Fleet. On 21 May 1951, his ship was credited with shore bombardment destruction of a North Korean military railroad train.

After being a student in the Command and Staff Course at the Naval War College and the Gunnery Training Officer at the Training Command Pacific, then Commander Smith served two years as Commanding Officer aboard USS DUNCAN (DDR-874) homeported in San Diego. He lead DUNCAN in two seven month tours to the Seventh Fleet to include patrols in the Formosa Straits to  protect Taiwan, Quemoy, and Matsu Islands. It was as Commanding Officer of DUNCAN that the Cruiser Destroyer Force Commander personally conducted an intensive, detailed Command Inspection and sent a message to the ship announcing that of the one hundered destroyers in his Force, DUNCAN was clearly “the Champs of the entire Pacific Destroyer Force.”

Upon completion of his highly succesful command of DUNCAN, the Pacific Cruiser Destroyer Force Commander assigned then Commander Smith to his afloat staff to be his Training and Readiness Officer. A subsequent shore assignment in the Bureau of Personnel for Officer Training in Washington D.C. was followed by two tours afloat in the Pacific Cruiser Destroyer Force in the rank of Captain as Commander Destroyer Division 112, and then as Chief of Staff to Commander Curiser Destoryer Flotilla.

After studing at the Naval War College's Senior Course, Captain Smith completed his Naval Career in 1972 with six years as Deputy Assistant Chief for Naval Reserve in Washington.

Captain Smith was awarded the Navy Commendation Medal with Combat Distinguishing “V” and the Meritorious Service Medal. He made his home for over thirty years in Falls Church, Virginia, and was past Treasurer of the Naval Academy Alumni Association in the Washington D.C. area. He was a member of the Surface Navy Association and was a member of the Masonic Order.

Captain Smith is survived by his wife of 55 years, the former Dorothy Woodworth; a daughter Rebecca of Annandale, Virginia; twin sons Thomas and Timothy of Falls Church. Burial will be in Arlington National Cemetery.

Captain Peter S. Smith, USN Ret. is laid to rest in Arlington National Cemetery

Report and Eulogy by Rear Admiral Jim Toole, USN Ret.

On 12 April, 2001, I attended the funeral of Captain Peter S. Smith, USN (ret), Commanding Officer, USS DUNCAN 1956-58, who was buried at Arlington National Cemetery. As reported earlier, he died on 17 March: it takes that long to get a full military honors' funeral at Arlington.

The funeral service was at the new chapel at the Fort Myer Army Post which maintains the National Cemetery. The DUNCANEERS had a wreath of blue and gold carnations that had a blue banner in the middle that saidin gold letters, “Forever Our Captain, Forever Our Champion.” The wreath was present at the head of the casket at the funeral home, in the Chapel, and at the gravesite ceremony.

On a haze grey day, Navy personnel formed-up outside the Chapel in full dress whites in two platoons of sailors with rifles, a color guard, a Navy Chaplain, and a Navy Commander, representing the President to present the flag to the widow. Six pallbears included three family friends (all Navy Captains retired), his former Academy roommate (Vice Admiral Bill Houser), his former Chief Engineer from DUNCAN (Vice Admiral Hank Mustin), and his former First Lieutenant (Rear Admiral Jim Toole).

The family was represented by his wife of 55 years, Dorothy Smith, their daughter Becki, the Smith's twin sons, and Becki's fiancee Terry Rychlik and his son Corey. After the chapel service, the casket was taken on a caisson drawn by four white horses with two outriders to the internment site; the casket was preceeded by the Color Guard, the Honor Guard Company, and was followed by the family, with Becki and her fiancee and his son walking the entire distance from the chapel to the gravesite. The subsequent trail included over 40 automobiles of friends. The gravesite included a Navy Taps Bugler and a Navy firing squad. Captain Smith is not buried very far from Captain Arie Sigmund who was the DUNCAN CIC and then Operations Officer 1956-58.

Comments at the service were made by Vice Admiral Houser about their four years together as roommates, followed by Vice Admiral Mustin's comments about the impact of Captain Smith upon him. Rear Admiral Toole's comments were as follows (note, some of the same comments were made by me about both Captain Thornhill and Captain Smith at the last DUNCANEERS Reunion in May 2000 and, again, at Captain Thornhill's funeral in June because both men were cut from the same cloth):

“Before I get into my remarks, I want to recall the seagoing career of Captain Smith. He graduated with his Class 1942 from the Naval Academy six months early because of Pearl Harbor. He served on two destroyers in World War II, was subsequently the Navigator of cruiser PROVIDENCE, commissioning Gunnery Officer of cruiser SALEM, commanded a DE during Korea that was credited with destroying a North Korean train by shore bombardment, and after DUNCAN had command of a Destroyer Division out of Long Beach, and was Chief of Staff to Cruiser Destroyer Flotilla SEVEN.”

One day we were going somewhere, and I was wearing working khaki and Pete Smith had on dress khaki. He met me on the quarterdeck and said, ‘You know Jim, the Captain is never out of uniform.' I immediately went below and found my blouse for that uniform. Today, I am in dress blue uniform because my Captain is in that uniform in this our final formation together.

If you go to the USSDUNCAN.ORG Web site maintained by the DUNCANEERS Reunion Association, click on their Hall of Champions, you will find two pictures of Captain Pete Smith that run the gamut of this naval leader. One picture finds him in his full dress blues, with sword and medals, before a gun mount: a trim thirty-eight year old naval gunnery expert who was in full command of his destroyer that had been labeled by the Force Commander during a Command Inspection to be ‘The Champion of the Pacific Destroyer Force.' The other picture, superimosed at the bottom, is him in working khaki uniform, after he had been on the bridge all day and all night for a set of operations; he could have awakened the Stewards and ordered them to make him something. Instead, there he is in the Wardroom Pantry making his own sandwich and having a great time doing it. That is the man who would sit down with his officers at the Officers' Club to play liar's dice with the loser paying a round of ‘gibbisons'. That is the man who was the surprise receiver of the hail-mary pass pattern that would win the wardroom touch football games.

I believe that psychologists are correct – a child who enters this world has imprinted upon his psyche the thinking, mannerisms, behavior, and culture of his parents. Today, my brother says I have become my father. I listen to Becki's voice, and I hear Captain Smith's strength of character indelibly passed forward.

Likewise, I believe that the impressionable young man who enters the Navy very quickly adapts to the culture of the Navy and its environment, especially on a small ship where everyone does know everyone, and there is nowhere to hide. The environment forces reliance one upon another and you become a member of a team.

It is in the simple things of life at sea – the day-in-day-out routine of being a self-contained city – that finds one looking to one's Mentors, as we say in the Navy, your “Sea Daddy” – for guidance and example. But, where does any sense of unity of excellence come from? It comes from the top, and it flows through the chain of command to each person on board. The skipper sets the tone and it is for good reason that we call him our “old man.”

The quality of the highest character existed with Pete Sterling Smith. Sterling was his middle name and sterling was his every action, every approach to issues, every handling of people aboard DUNCAN.

He was the epitome of a naval officer, who taught me more than the mechanics of the Navy: he taught me what an officer is and how to be a gentleman. He showed me, by his daily example, what I ought to strive to be to become a naval officer: one who leads through knowledge and inspiration, and truly earns, gains and retains respect. Respect today is a word that is way overused: many people demand it, before they say or do a thing, let alone earn it. With our Captain Pete Smith, respect was given by all of us to him, readily, willingly, gladly.

I reported aboard DUNCAN forty-four years ago as a freshly-minted Ensign. He made me his First Lieutnenant and, as First Lieutenant, the ship was expected to sparkle. I had the easiest time because of our leader. In port after port, other First Lieutenants from other ships would come aboard and ask me: ‘after weeks at sea, how did you GET your men not to go ashore on liberty, but to stay aboard and  clean the whole ship's exterior?' I said, ‘I didn't GET the men to do anything: they did it on their own, because they have pride: pride in themselves, pride in their ship, pride in their Captain whom they weren't about to let down.' We would go out on deck and they would query the first sailor they came to, and the sailor would say: ‘It's simple: we're the Champs and we're going to stay the Champs.'

And stay ‘the Champs' we did. We were the best at everything under Captain Smith: we never came in second. We were winners because, as Captain Pete said, ‘Win we must because in battle at sea, there is no second prize.'

Captain Pete insisted that his officers drive the ship: do it smartly, without hesitation but with maximum professionalism. We got her underway, brought her alongside other ships: moored, anchored, were first into tactical position – always with the dash of a great destroyer. DUNCAN became not his ship: DUNCAN became OUR ship through his trust in us . which provided great confidence and great competence in everyone on board.

He was susperb at letting us learn-by-doing at sea, and we ALL sought to do our very best. Often, when faced with a problem at sea, I would ask myself: how would Captain Smith handle this? Captain Smith was by any standard, the highest standard for a Commanding Officer: a sailor's sailor, a navigator's navigator, a gunner's gunner, a shiphandler's shiphandler; the leader of  leaders. He was the Champ. He lead a small Wardroom of less than a dozen Ensigns and Lieutenant Junior Grades that eventually found: his Operations Officer, LTJG Sigmond, command the NATO Destroyer Squadron; his Chief Engineer, LTJG Mustin, command the U.S. Atlantic and NATO fighting fleets; his First Lieutenant, Ensign Toole, provide mobile logisitics support to the Atlantic, Mediterranean, and Indian Ocean ships. No other destroyer skipper had wardroom graduates do that.

In recent years, I was very proud to take my first Commanding Officer to luncheons at the Surface Warfare Association. There, no one even knew where their first skipper lived, let along accompanied them to luncheons.

He was my guiding light. I always tried to be his type of naval officer – a professional naval leader, but one who would inspire those about him to do their very best. I was very proud that he and Dorothy attended my last Change of Comand so I could tell him publicly that I personally strove, very hard, but never achieved, his standard – and certainly not with the confidence and ease always  displayed by him as a naval leader.

Captain Smith was a roommate, a shipmate, a naval leader. He was a husband, a Dad, a friend. To  me he was my Sea Daddy, and like my own Dad, I will miss him every day, always.”

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