He was "Smitty" to his friends and co-workers, and eventually to me as well. There was no better friend on this earth. He was constantly helping out others, especially with their automobiles. He was an exceptional mechanic, not only with cars, but with anything mechanical. One of his friends jokingly told me one day that he was certain Smitty could rebuild a B-25 from nose to tail - in flight! At least, I think it was a joke. Seeing some of his handiwork, I'm not so sure any more.
Our relationship got off to a terrible start right from the beginning, the night I asked for his daughter's hand in marriage. He yelled and screamed at me, but in the end gave me his daughter, to whom I've been very happily married for almost 45 years. The years in between were a see-saw: from being an unwanted appendage to being someone to be proud of - and back again. One major problem between us was that we had far too much in common, and were too much alike - strong-willed, stubborn men. Gradually, however, we got to where we actually enjoyed each others company.
Smitty put in more than 20 years in the Air Force, including tours during World War II and Korea. I spent 26 years in the Air Force, including a tour in Vietnam and almost 10 years in Germany. He contracted malaria in India, and nearly froze in Korea. One of his early assignments was to Panama, which also happened to be my first overseas tour. We had many similar experiences: he was stationed in El Paso, I spent time in Alamogordo. He was stationed in northern Texas, I spent a year in Oklahoma, not too far north of there. He went to India, I went to Vietnam. He belonged to SAC the last seven or eight years of his career, I was stationed at Offutt AFB, SAC Headquarters, three times during my career.
We did do things together, many times. We rode the D&RGW narrow gauge from Durango to Silverton together. We went fishing together, at a number of different lakes. We went cross-country skiing together, and visited many of the less-well-known attractions of Colorado. He even got me inside the missile production facility at the Martin Company where he worked, and showed me around. Unfortunately, except for a brief time in the late 1970's, my Air Force career took me away from Colorado, and visits were few.
Smitty began working for the Martin Company shortly after he retired from the Air Force, and spent thirty years there. He worked his way up from the manufacturing floor to a position of quality control, and worked on quite a number of the space-related aspects of Martin's production. His first job was with the Titan missile system, and he continued with that program through the Titan 4. He was associated with the Mars program, the sun-shield for the Spacelab, and lastly and most importantly, with the X-24B program, where he was the senior quality-control engineer. That's quite an accomplishment for a man who ran away from home to join the Army at 16, with an 8th-grade education. By the time he retired from Martin, he had expanded his education through self-study to the point where he had the equivalent of at least a bachelor's degree.
He even made the cover of Aviation Week! He's the guy at the far left on the ladder.
Smitty will always be for me the epitome of American exceptionalism - no matter where you start out, where you end up is only limited by your willingness to work toward your goals. We've been privileged as a nation to have people like Smitty among our citizens. I had the special privilege of being a part of his family.
We'll all miss you, Smitty, but we're a little better for having known you.