Bernie William Smith, Navigator
17th SOS, Phan Rang and Tan Son Nhut, 1970-71

Bernard William Smith was born in Indianapolis, Indiana in 1935. He graduated from Rockport High School in his hometown of Rockport, Indiana in 1953. After graduation from University of Evansville in 1958, Bernard entered the Air Force that fall at Lackland AFB, Texas. He joined the Air Force because it was a family tradition to serve in the military.

Bernard, better known as Bernie, attended advanced training at Harlingen, Texas in 1959 followed by navigator training at Mather AFB, California and Survival Training at Stead AFB, Nevada in 1960. Places of assignments include Fairchild AFB in 1960, Castle AFB in 1961, and March AFB from 1962 through 1965. From 1966 to 1970, Bernie served at Malmstrom AFB. From June 1970 to June 1971, Major Bernie Smith served in the Republic of Vietnam at Phan Rang and Tan Son Nhut as a Shadow navigator and C Flight scheduling officer.

Vivid are his memories of the first night in-country at Cam Ranh Bay when the windows of the VOQ were blown out by enemy mortar rounds and then his third morning in-country at Phan Rang when he approached the O’ Club for breakfast to find the stairs into the club blown away. Such was his welcome to Vietnam.

Flying combat missions, both night and day became routine in August 1970 when Fighting C Flight Shadows provided 24-7 support for the Cambodian Army. Bernie loved talking to and supporting Australian ground troops. But there were times when he had difficulty communicating with Cambodian ground commanders who requested fire support. On one mission, the Cambodian could not understand why the Shadow would not fire at the enemy. Finally, a frustrated Bernie radioed the commander in Cowboy/Indian movie fashion, “TOO MANY CLOUDS IN SKY, CANNOT SEE.” Bernie wondered many times if he would live to see the next day when his Shadow gunship sustained damage from enemy ground fire.

For his service in Southeast Asia, Major Smith was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Air Medal with nine clusters. The Republic of Vietnam awarded Smith with the Vietnamese Air Medal, his most revered award.

Things remembered most about his tour of duty in Vietnam were the close relationships with his fellow warriors; the humor used by men to manage fears and doubts, especially while dealing with tragic events; the poverty of a war-torn country; the beauty and loving character of the Cambodian people; and returning home to the land of the big B-X, to a country that had lost its moral rudder.

Major Smith was assigned to SAC at Carswell AFB, Fort Worth Texas, upon returning stateside. In September 1978, Lieutenant Colonel Bernard Smith ended his career with the United States Air Force when he retired at Carswell having served his country for twenty years.

After retiring from the Air Force, he became a Commercial Real Estate Broker from 1983 to 1990. He then became a Simulator and Ground School Instructor for American Air Lines 757/767 aircraft from 1991 to 1996. Upon his retirement from American, Bernie thankfully declared, “What a great country and what a great life!”

Bernie currently lives in Fort Worth with his lovely wife, Judy.