Rank Insignia Previous Honoree ID Next Honoree ID

honoree image
First Name: Joseph

Last Name: Smith

Birthplace: Scranton, PA, USA

Gender: Male

Branch: Air Force (1947 - present)

Date of Birth: 31 October 1901

Date of Death: 19 May 1993

Rank: Lieutenant General

Years Served:
Joseph Smith

•  World War II (1941 - 1945)


Joseph Smith
Lieutenant General, U.S. Air Force

Joseph Smith was born on 31 October 1901 in Scranton, PA. He graduated from the U.S. Military Academy on 12 June 1923. Smith was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant of Cavalry and assigned to the Eighth Cavalry at Fort Bliss, TX. In October 1924, he joined the Second Machine Gun Squadron at Fort Bliss, and later became Squadron Adjutant.

From November 1927 to October 1928, Joseph learned to fly at the Air Corps Primary Flying School at Brooks Field, TX, and the Air Corps Advanced Flying School at Kelly Field, TX. After graduation, he headed the Cadet Corps at 40th School Squadron at Kelly Field. In December 1928, he joined the 66th Service Squadron at Camp Nichols in the Philippine Islands and transferred to the Air Corps in January 1929.

Smith was assigned to Brooks Field as Post Education and Recreation Officer in March 1931; in October, he moved to assume the same duties at Kelly Field. He assumed command of the Flying Cadet Detachment at the Advanced Flying School at Kelly in July 1932. From March to May 1934, he served as a pilot with the Army Air Corps-Mail Operations at Salt Lake City, UT, flying the U.S. mail. Afterward, he returned to Kelly Field as an instructor at the Advanced Flying School. He was named Flight Commander of the 42nd Bombardment Squadron at Kelly Field in February 1935.

He entered the Air Corps Tactical School at Maxwell Field, AL, in August 1936 and graduated the following June. He then moved to Mitchel Field, NY, as a student officer at the Group Navigation School. After completing the course in November 1937, he remained at Mitchel Field as Operations Officer of the Ninth Bombardment Group. In September 1938, he entered the Command and General Staff School at Fort Leavenworth, KS, and, after graduation in June 1939, resumed his duties as Operations Officer of the Ninth Bombardment Group at Mitchel Field.

From July 1940 to March 1942, Smith served at Langley Field, VA, and Bolling Field, Washington, DC, respectively, as Assistant to the Assistant Chief of Staff for Operations at General Headquarters Air Corps, and later as Assistant to the Assistant Chief of Staff for Operations of the Air Corps Combat Command. His next assignment was as a member of the Strategy Section, Strategy and Policy Group, Operations Division, War Department General Staff, Washington. In April 1943, he was made senior Air Force member of the Joint War Plans Committee, Joint Chiefs of Staff, and as a senior planner, he accompanied President Franklin D. Roosevelt to the Cairo Conference to refine Allied strategy. In January 1944, Smith became Chief of Staff of the Third Air Force in Tampa, FL.

In January 1945, Smith joined the 20th Bomber Command in India and, in March, was appointed its Chief of Staff. In August, he became Deputy Chief of Staff of the Eighth Air Force on Okinawa.
In October, he was appointed Assistant Chief of Air Staff for Plans at Air Corps headquarters. In November, he became Chief of Staff of the Air University at Maxwell Field, AL, and, in July 1946 was named Deputy Commanding General of the Air University. In August 1946, he became Commandant of the Air Tactical School at Tyndall Field, FL. Smith, in November 1947, was appointed Headquarters Commandant of the U.S. Air Forces in Europe at Wiesbaden, Germany.

The Russians cut off all road, rail and water links to West Berlin in June 1948. The task of supplying Berlin by air fell upon the U.S. Air Force in Europe, commanded by Major General Curtis E. LeMay. He had at his disposal 102 C-47s, each with a cargo capacity of 3 tons, and 2 of the larger C-54s that could each carry 10 tons. It was typical of LeMay to delegate tasks to the right person for the job, and he appointed Brigadier General Joseph Smith as Berlin Airlift Task Force Commander for an operation expected to last about two weeks. Smith called it 'Operation Vittles' because, "We're hauling grub" and immediately instituted procedures that were, in large part, used for the entire airlift that sustained two million West Berliners. The U.S. and British transports landed every 3 minutes at Tempelhof Field; on their return trip, the planes flew out products from Berlin's factories. Major General William H. Tunner replaced Smith as task force commander on 30 July 1948 and the Russians lifted the blockade in May 1949.

In November 1948, he was assigned to the Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations at U.S. Air Force Headquarters in Washington and, in December, became Chief of the Plans Division in that office. The following September, he was appointed Deputy Director of Plans and Operations in the same office, with added duty as the Air Force member of the Joint Strategic Plans Committee of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. In July 1950, the director of plans and operations was split into two directorates, and Smith became Director of Plans in July 1951.

Smith assumed command of the Military Air Transport Service (MATS) headquartered at Andrews AFB, MD, on 15 November 1951. MATS ferries troops, their families and cargo for the Armed Forces. MATS achieved several notable successes under his direction. His personal crusade involved efforts to increase the command's flight safety record and accidents declined by 75 percent during his tenure. He was also instrumental in preparing DoD Directive 5160.2, dated 7 December 1956, which designated MATS as the Single Manager Operating Agency for Airlift Services.

Under Smith's leadership, MATS conducted several critical operational activities: The airlift to support the Korean War (1951-53); transportation of French Legionnaires from Saigon, South Vietnam, following French withdrawal (1954); airlift in response to the Suez Crisis (1956); and the movement of Hungarian refugees fleeing the country following a Soviet invasion (1956-57). He had the distinction of serving as Commander of MATS longer than any other individual, retiring from the position, and the USAF, on 29 June 1958.

He was rated a Command Pilot, Combat Observer, Aircraft Observer, and Technical Observer.

Medals and Awards

Distinguished Service Medal
Legion of Merit (2 Awards)
Bronze Star Medal


In 1995, Lieutenant General Smith was posthumously inducted into the Airlift/Tanker Association Hall of Fame.

Death and Burial

Lieutenant General Joseph Smith died on 19 May 1993 at Andrews AFB Hospital, MD, at the age of 91. The cause of death was heart failure due to respiratory distress. Prior to his death, he had been living in a military retirement home at Fort Belvoir, VA. He is buried at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, VA.


Honoree ID: 3304   Created by: MHOH




Honoree Photos

honoree imagehonoree imagehonoree image

honoree imagehonoree image

honoree image