Flag Flies for David Charles Smith

Flag Flies for David Charles Smith photo

In continuing its mission to take history out of the textbooks by honoring a local veteran each month of the school year, the Hampton Bays School District is paying tribute to Mr. David Charles Smith by flying an American flag in his honor throughout the month of June.

“The Hampton Bays School District is proud to honor Mr. Smith for his service to the United States,” said Superintendent of Schools Lars Clemensen. 

The American flag was raised during a Flag Day ceremony at Hampton Bays Elementary School on June 14. During the event, second-graders read Smith’s biography and celebrated the American flag by singing several traditional, patriotic songs. 

Smith has deep roots in Hampton Bays; his family has lived in the area for more than 100 years. He was born on Feb. 23, 1948 and enlisted in the U.S. Air Force in October 1967 at the age of 19. He has contributed to his community and to the country continuously since then.

His first duty assignment was in Rapid City, South Dakota, where he trained on the UH-1 nicknamed the “Huey” and both the Sikorsky H3 and H53. The UH-1 was the most common utility helicopter used in Vietnam. The Sikorsky helicopters are known for carrying heavier cargo.

His military job designation was “flight engineer,” a key member of the three-man team for each helicopter in addition to the pilot and co-pilot. He was responsible for the mechanical well-being of the helicopter. His initial posting was to Thailand in 1968-1969, where he flew on Special Ops flights into Laos and Vietnam dropping seven-man teams to watch the Ho Chi Minh Trail, a major supply network composed of roads and tunnels. The trail began in Hanoi, North Vietnam, passed through Laos and Cambodia, and ultimately ended at Saigon, South Vietnam. His unit sometimes worked with Air America, a CIA support group whose mission was also Special Ops on the Plain of Jars in Laos, and sometimes moved people around on H53s for the Laotian government on his second tour, 1970-1971. 

In the service nicknames are common. Smith’s nickname, “Treesmith,” was given to him during delivery of a seven-man team into North Vietnam. His helicopter had landed in tall elephant grass which obscured the presence of a small tree. This tree uprooted when they took off and stubbornly stuck to the bottom of the helicopter despite efforts to dislodge it. On return to base – NKP (Nakhon Phnom – the Royal Thai AFB) – it finally fell, and it did so right in the middle of the runway, preventing landing of fixed-wing planes until it was removed. Since that day, the nickname stuck.

He returned to the States in 1971 and to Hampton Bays, where he served as a Hampton Bays policeman for the next year. In 1972, he re-enlisted and was posted to Shaw Air Force Base in South Carolina. He was at Shaw through 1973 continuing his work with H3s and H53s and taking on added responsibility as a chief flight instructor and examiner. Between 1973 and 1989, Smith was assigned to bases in Japan, California and New Mexico. At Kirtland Air Force Base in New Mexico, he was given the added function of chief flight examiner. 

During the course of his distinguished career, which included more than 3,000 logged hours of flight time and more than 100 combat missions into Laos and Vietnam, Smith received numerous commendations. He particularly prizes his two Distinguished Flying Cross medals and his six Air Medals.

He retired in 1989 and now does handyman work in Hampton Bays and maintenance on his family’s properties. Since 2000, he has served continuously with the Hampton Bays Volunteer Ambulance Corps, responding to between 250 and 300-plus service requests per year, and serves as its sergeant of arms. He is married to his wife, Suzanne, and has three daughters, Marilyn, Lindsay and Laura, as well as six grandchildren.