Ranger Exes Memorial - RHS Class of 1938

Homer Smith MAJ. GEN. HOMER D. SMITH, JR. (Ret.) of San Antonio, TX passed away on March 6, 2011, with burial at Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery in SA. He was born in Breckenridge, TX on Feb. 16, 1922. He graduated from Ranger High School in the Class of 1938 at Ranger, TX. He was President of the Ranger Exes Association in 1989 & Director for many years. The General responsible for planning and executing Operation Frequent Wind and Operation Baby-Lift during the fall of Saigon. Major General Homer D. Smith served in the United States Army for thirty-six years and was 89 at the time of his death. Besides Vietnam he also participated in Word War II and Korea but he is most known for his second tour in Vietnam where he was in charge of planning and executing operation “Frequent Wind” and helping several thousand South Vietnamese flee before the North Vietnamese entered Saigon. Operation “Frequent Wind” was responsible for the evacuation of the U.S. Embassy personnel and the remaining military contingent by air and later by helicopters from the Embassy roof. He recounted the days leading to the fall of Saigon and the evacuation of orphan’s in the Discovery Channel productions, the “Fall of Saigon” and “Operation Baby-Lift.” General Smith respected and appreciated the Vietnamese people and when he spoke about his role in the evacuation from Saigon he often said, “It was the saddest day of my life.” General Smith was a bona fide member of America’s “greatest generation.” A native of Breckenridge, Texas, he was the son of Homer D. Smith, Sr., and Sara Elsie Snodgrass. At the height of World War II, General Smith graduated from the Texas A&M class of 1943. Almost immediately upon his graduation, he was sent to England to help plan the logistics for D-Day. After D-Day he continued to serve in the European Theater until 1946 when he returned to civilian life for a few years before re-entering the Army once more. General Smith became a career logistician and during his first tour in Vietnam he served in various senior logistical assignments from 1968 to 1970. While he was in charge of mortuary affairs he would visit the morgue every day for “someone should be there to send the soldiers off.” To him, the morgue also served as a daily reminder of the seriousness of war & therein especially the ultimate sacrifice endured by military members and their families. When General Smith returned to Vietnam in Sept. of 1974, major U.S. combat operations had ceased and our assistance to the South Vietnamese was driven by the 1973 Paris Agreements. As the Defense Attaché he was the senior military officer in the country. Major hostilities between the warring Vietnamese parties were supposed to have stopped as they sought national reconciliation, but they continued their military operations against each other. Retired Army Colonel Stuart A. Herrington who authored the book “Peace with Honor: An American reports on Vietnam 1973-75” recently stated in reference to his service in Saigon with General Smith, “it was a tense, demanding, and depressing duty as the realization hit us that national reconciliation had failed and the war was not going to end well. Most of us would exit Vietnam when the North Vietnamese dictated it was time to go and not at the end of our tours and worse, we would be writing the final act of America’s first military defeat. As with General Smith, I felt devastated for we would also be forced to abandon most of our South Vietnamese comrades-in arms and their fate would most likely not end well when the North Vietnamese took control.” Saddled with the task of “shutting out the lights” on our South Vietnamese ally General Smith tried to save as many lives as possible in the process and through his efforts, 7500 South Vietnamese were evacuated from Saigon. To some it might have seemed like an insurmountable task but General Smith tackled the highly charged political challenge and defeated obstacles that developed during the course of the evacuation. When the South Vietnamese government refused to let members of their military leave, General Smith through the embassy staff, issued them American passports. As much as he tried to help them, he once said; “it was not easy to convince them to leave since not only did they have to take their immediate family with them but also their extended and many of them decided to stay because of it.” General Smith wanted to proceed with the evacuation earlier but U.S. Ambassador Graham Martin stubbornly refused, fearing it could trigger panic among the South Vietnamese. As the North Vietnamese got closer to Saigon, General Smith knew he had to act. Going against the wishes of Ambassador Martin, he called then Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, and got permission to implement operation “Frequent Wind.” He later said about Ambassador Martin, “he didn’t want to leave. Martin was in denial and did not think Saigon would fall to the North Vietnamese. In the end we almost had to forcibly remove the Ambassador to get him onboard the helicopter.” During 29-30 April 1975, operation “Frequent Wind” saved 7000 people before the remaining American military personnel and General Smith left Saigon. In reference to the evacuation, Colonel Herrington said; “As one of General Smith’s officers, I marveled at how he kept his cool, his display of determination and courage while also setting an example for the staff by his methodical approach to problems that developed during the course of the evacuation. He was not the type to fall victim to histrionics, posturing, or other conduct that would have been the undoing of some officers faced with such life-and-death decisions. Only once, and he can be excused for this, did his temper ever flare, when ever-so-carefully he directed the entire DAO (Defense Attaché Office) compound, also known as “Pentagon East,” be wired with explosives for as General Smith stated ‘I’ll be dammed if I’m going to leave anything for those bastards.’” Before operation “Frequent Wind” was implemented, General Smith planned and executed operation “Baby-Lift.” During the course of the American presence in Vietnam, several children were born to Vietnamese mothers and American fathers. Due to the stigma attached to ethnically mixed children and the inability of their mothers to care for them, many ended up in orphanages. On April 4, 1975, the initial flight transporting 328 orphans and accompanying adults left Tan-San- Nhut airfield in Saigon. Within minutes after take-off the locks on the rear loading ramp causing it to open. Rapid decompression occurred, and the plane started to destabilize and fail. The crew managed to turn the airplane around but due to equipment failure they missed the landing strip and ended up crashing in a rice paddy close to the airport. The airplane broke into four parts during the crash and only 175 orphans and adults survived. The tragedy of this flight was especially emotional for General Smith as many of the accompanying adults were women who worked for him, and most of them died in the crash. After General Smith returned from Vietnam he reported to Fort Monroe, VA to become Deputy Chief of Staff for Logistics of the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command. In June of 1977, he took command of the U.S. Army Logistics Center at Fort Lee, VA. After he retired July 1979, General Smith moved to Brussels Belgium, to head the newly established Logistics Directorate at the Headquarters of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). During his tenure at NATO he was also one of four NATO employees who would serve as Secretary General during his absences. Prior to his first tour of duty in Vietnam, General Smith was the commander of Camp Darby in Italy. General Smith received many awards and medals throughout his military career to include the Distinguished Service Medal with 2 Oak Leaf Clusters, the Legion of Merit and the Air Medal. General Smith leaves behind his Danish born and loving wife Jette; son Clay of Bend, Oregon; daughters and sons-in-law; Amanda Smith (Brian Mclaughlin) of San Francisco, California; Sophia O’Hara (Jack O’Hara) of San Antonio, Texas; Karen Smith of Dallas, Texas; and CPT Frederikke “Ricca” Buhl-Cook, USAR (CW4 Lore D. Cook, USA) of Tampa, Florida. Left behind are also his lovely grandchildren: Dameon, Michaela, Bridgit, Rory, Jessica and Dylan. His daughter Lou-Ann Smith preceded him in death. His brothers were David Smith (RHS-1944), Robert Smith (RHS-1941), and William Smith (RHS-1940). To everyone in his family and those who got to know him over the years, he was a wonderful and caring husband, father and friend. In the words of his daughter Ricca; “he was not just a father, he was a friend. He was not just a rock, he was Mount Everest.” For all the people who knew him “he was a man, take him for all in all, I shall not look upon his like again.” (Shakespeare)