SMITH, DONALD CLAYTON
SMITH, DONALD CLAYTON
Rank / Branch:
1ST LT, U.S. AIR FOR
Date of Birth:
Awards & Decorations:
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DONALD CLAYTON SMITH, FIRST LIEUTENANT, U.S. AIR FORCE, MCCAMEY, UPTON COUNTY, TEXAS
AWARDS AND DECORATIONS
Aviator Wings, Purple Heart, Air Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Medal, Vietnam Service Medal, Vietnam Campaign Medal
Don was born at Shannon Memorial Hospital in San Angelo, Texas. His parents, Peggy (died 1973) and Olin Smith (died 1986), took him home to McCamey, a small, dusty West Texas town of about 5000 hardy and tightly-knit individuals who worked in the oil field, farmed and ranched the hardscrabble lands around the Pecos River, or owned and operated businesses that had grown up in the town after George B McCamey brought in Discovery Well in 1925. McCamey and the surrounding country had an indelible effect on Don and everyone else who was raised there.
When Don was born and for a decade thereafter his father worked as a mechanic for Texas Pacific Coal and Oil Company. Don’s grandfather, Donald Smith, for whom Don was named, was a drilling superintendent for the same company. He and Don’s grandmother lived in the Texas Pacific Coal and Oil Company camp a few miles east of McCamey.
Don spent a lot of his youth prowling the mesas around the TP Camp. Don’s maternal grandparents, George and Rovie Gunnels, also lived in McCamey. In 1942 Don was joined by a brother, Errol, and in 1945 a sister, Sue.
Don spent all twelve of his years in public schools in McCamey, beginning first grade in 1943 and graduating from high school in 1955. In high school he excelled in academics, particularly mathematics. He served as vice president of the student body during his senior year. His principal extracurricular activity was band. He became an accomplished cornet player during his band career, serving as first chair his senior year. He was also band president during his senior year.
During his high school years, Don spent much of his free time working in the welding and machine shop his mother and father had started in 1948. He learned to weld and operate a variety of machines. He also became an adept mechanic by hanging around his father and the men who worked for his father. Like most West Texas kids from oil field families, Don worked as a tool dresser on cable tool drilling rigs and as a floor hand on pulling machines from time to time.
Upon graduating from high school in 1955, Don started his college career at what is now Tarleton State University in Stephenville, Texas. He attended Tarleton on a band scholarship. After two years, he transferred to North Texas State College, now the University of North Texas, where he settled on government as a major. He graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in August, 1961.
Don began his Air Force career when he entered Officer Training School at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, in early November, 1961. He married Louise Gray in Tyler, Texas, on December 16, 1961. Two months later he graduated from Officer Training School. He and Louise left immediately for pilot training at Moody Air Force Base in Valdosta, Georgia. There, on July 23, 1962, Don and Louise had their first child, a son, Gregory Errol.
Once he completed pilot training in late March, 1963, Don was assigned to fly C-130s out of Dyess Air Force Base in Abilene, Texas. During the period of his training at Dyess, he had the opportunity to fly over his hometown of McCamey on several occasions, an event that brought most of the population out to the streets to witness the event, which became the topic of most coffee shop conversations for weeks. For a year or so after completing his C-130 training, Don flew to various bases in Europe and Alaska. The most significant non-military event at Dyess was the birth of a daughter, Jennifer, on January 3, 1964.
In early 1965, Don’s entire squadron was sent to Taichung, Taiwan. On December 20, after having flown all day, Don and his crew were sent on a night mission to a base in the Republic of Vietnam. Under terrible weather conditions they missed their first approach to a runway lit only by flare cans located every three hundred feet along one side of the runway. On their second approach, they crashed on a hill that did not appear on their topographical maps. The loss of Don more than forty years ago devastated his family and all those who knew him. Those who survive him today still feel that loss.
Donald Clayton Smith, First Lietenant, Dyess Air Force Base 1964
Piloting the C-130
Lt. Smith was buried with full military honors at Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery in San Antonio, Texas.
Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery, San Antonio, Texas