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First Name: Oliver

Last Name: Smith

Birthplace: Menard, TX, USA

Gender: Male

Branch: Marines (present)

Middle Name: Prince

Date of Birth: 26 October 1893

Date of Death: 25 December 1977

Rank: General

Years Served: 1917-1955
Oliver Prince Smith

•  Banana Wars (1898 - 1934)
•  World War II (1941 - 1945)
•  Korean War (1950 - 1953)


Oliver Prince Smith
General, U.S. Marine Corps
(Tombstone General)

Oliver Prince Smith was born on 26 October 1893 in Menard, TX, but grew up in Northern California. He attended the University of California, Berkeley, working his way through college doing odd jobs (mostly gardening) and was a member of Alpha Kappa Lambda Fraternity. He graduated in 1916 and reported for active duty as a Second Lieutenant in the Marine Corps on 14 May 1917.

Marine Corps Service

The following month he was assigned his first overseas tour at Guam, Marianas Islands, where he served with the Marine Barracks, Naval Station. In May 1919, he returned to the U.S. for duty with the Marine Barracks at Mare Island, CA.

Ordered to sea duty in October 1921, Smith served as Commanding Officer of the Marine Detachment aboard the USS Texas (BB-35) until May 1924. At that time he was ordered to Marine Corps Headquarters, Washington, DC, for duty with the Personnel Section.

Returning overseas in June 1928, he joined the Gendarmerie d'Haiti, Port-au-Prince, as Assistant Chief of Staff. Following his return from foreign shore duty in June 1931, he became a student at the Field Officer's Course, U.S. Army Infantry School, Fort Benning, GA. Graduating in June 1932, he was ordered to duty at the Marine Corps Schools, Quantico, VA, as an instructor in the Company Officers' Course. In September 1933, he was named Assistant Operations Officer of the 7th Marine Regiment at Quantico.

Smith sailed for France in January 1934, where he joined the staff of the American Embassy in Paris for duty with the Office of the U.S. Naval Attaché. From November 1934 to July 1936, while in Paris, he became the first Marine Corps officer to matriculate at the Ecole Supérieure de Guerre.

He returned to the U.S. in August 1936, and joined the staff of the Marine Corps Schools at Quantico as an Instructor in the S-3 Section, (Operations and Training). He acquired the nickname "the professor," and gained a reputation as an intellectual during these years. He was also recognized as an expert on amphibious warfare.

Smith was transferred to the West Coast in July 1939, where he joined the Fleet Marine Force as Operations Officer at the Marine Corps Base, San Diego, CA.

In June of the following year, he became Commanding Officer of the 1st Battalion, 6th Marines, and in May 1941, sailed with the 6th Marine Regiment for Iceland where he remained until returning to the U.S. in March 1942.

World War II

In May 1942, Smith was ordered to Headquarters Marine Corps, Washington, where he became Executive Officer of the Division of Plans and Policies. He remained in this capacity until January 1944, when he joined the 1st Marine Division on New Britain. There he took command of the 5th Marine Regiment and subsequently led the regiment in the Talasea phase of the Cape Gloucester operation.

In April 1944, he was named Assistant Division Commander of the 1st Marine Division and participated in operations against the Japanese in the Peleliu operation during September and October 1944.

Smith became Marine Deputy Chief of Staff of the Tenth Army in November 1944, and participated in the Battle of Okinawa from April-June 1945.

In July 1945, he returned to the U.S. and became Commandant of the Marine Corps Schools, Quantico, and in January 1948, was named Commanding General, Marine Barracks, Quantico, in addition to his duties at the school. Three months later, he became Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps and Chief of Staff, Headquarters Marine Corps, Washington. While there he served as Editor-in-Chief of the professional journal of U.S. Marines, the Marine Corps Gazette.

Korean War

Named Commanding General of the 1st Marine Division in June 1950, Major General Smith led his Division through the bitter campaigns of the Korean War - from the late summer assault at Inchon, to the sub-zero winter drive north to the Chosin Reservoir.

In October 1950, the 1st Marine Division landed at Wonsan on the eastern side of Korea under the command of the Army's X Corps commanded by General Edward Almond. Almond and Smith shared a mutual loathing of each other that dated back to a meeting between the two in Japan before the landing at Inchon. During the meeting Almond had spoken of how easy amphibious landings were although he had never planned or taken part in one and then referred to Smith as Son although he was only 10 months older than he was. Smith and the Marine command also felt Almond was overly aggressive and were sure that there were large numbers of Chinese Forces in North Korea when higher headquarters in Tokyo was telling them it was not the case. Although ordered to go north to the Yalu River as fast as he could, Smith continuously slowed the Division's march to the point of near insubordination. Also along the way he established supply points and an airfield.

In November 1950, with the 1st Marine Division surrounded at the Chosin Reservoir, he directed the breakout and subsequent 70-mile march to the seaport of Hungnam. He is noted for saying "Retreat, hell! We're not retreating, we're just advancing in a different direction."

In the end his careful march north and his ability to keep the Division together saved it from total destruction and quite possibly the entire X Corps.

Smith returned to the U.S. in May 1951 and was assigned duties as Commanding General, Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, CA.

In July 1953, he was advanced to the rank of Lieutenant General and assumed his final duties as Commanding General, Fleet Marine Force, Atlantic. He served in this capacity until his retirement on 1 September 1955.

He retired at the rank of four-star general, being advanced in rank for having been specially commended for heroism in combat. He thus became the ninth Marine to become a "Tombstone General." *

* The Act of Congress of 4 March 1925, allowed officers in the Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard to be promoted one grade upon retirement if they had been specially commended for performance of duty in actual combat. Combat citation promotions were colloquially known as "tombstone promotions" because they conferred the prestige of the higher rank, but not the additional retirement pay, so their only practical benefit was to allow recipients to engrave a loftier title on their business cards and tombstones. The Act of Congress of 23 February 1942, enabled tombstone promotions to three- and four-star grades. Tombstone promotions were subsequently restricted to citations issued before 1 January 1947, and finally eliminated altogether effective 1 November 1959.

Any general who actually served in a grade while on active duty receives precedence on the retirement list over any tombstone general holding the same retired grade. "Tombstone generals" rank among each other according to the dates of their highest active duty grade.

Medals and Awards

Distinguished Service Cross
Navy Distinguished Service Medal
Army Distinguished Service Medal
Silver Star Medal
Legion of Merit w/ Valor Device & 1 Oak Leaf Cluster
Bronze Star Medal w/ Valor Device
Air Medal
Navy Presidential Unit Citation w/ 3 Service Stars
Navy Unit Commendation
Marine Corps Expeditionary Medal
World War I Victory Medal
American Defense Service Medal w/ Base clasp
European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal
Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal w/ 3 Service Stars
World War II Victory Medal
National Defense Service Medal
Korean Service Medal w/ Silver Service Star
Haitian Distinguished Service Medal w/ Diploma
Order of Orange-Nassau, Commander
Order of National Security Merit, Tong-il Medal w/ Silver Star
Korean Presidential Unit Citation
United Nations Korea Medal

Death and Burial

General Oliver Prince Smith died in Los Altos, CA, on 25 December 1977. He is buried at Golden Gate National Cemetery in San Bruno, San Mateo County, CA, in Plot C-1, 30.

He was preceded in death by his wife, Esther King Smith, in 1964.

Honoree ID: 424   Created by: MHOH




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