COL Paul L. Smith, USA (Ret) (1887-1978). When the Defense Department finally authorized an aviation unit for the Rhode Island National Guard in 1939, then-Governor Vanderbilt had to find an experienced military aviator to head up this unit, the 152nd Observation Squadron.
The choice was relatively easy. Woonsocket resident Paul L Smith was a Captain in the Army Reserve, and was Rhode Island’s most experienced military aviator. He had earned his wings in 1918 and had been a vocal advocate for aviation development and growth for 20 years. In announcing Smith’s selection, the Providence Journal reported: “Captain Smith, who holds the military rating of Airplane Pilot, Group 1–A and a transport rating in commercial aviation, has been active for many years in the movement to get an air squadron of its own for the Rhode Island National Guard.”
Paul Smith was educated in the Woonsocket public schools, graduating from Woonsocket High School in 1915. He then attended the University of Vermont, enlisting in the air service after the US entered WWI. He earned his wings just as the war ended.
Between the wars he began his career as a journalist; five years after being hired as a reporter, the Woonsocket Call made him City Editor in 1926. He continued to actively promote aviation development in the state, and in 1930 he formed a company which developed, built and operated the old Woonsocket airport.
Throughout the 1930s he was also active in the campaign to modernize military aviation. He became president of the New England Air Reserve Association, and was elected to the executive board of the national Air Reserve Association. The 152nd was known as Rhode Island’s “Fighting Red Rooster Squadron”. Smith recruited a number of private pilots to join, along with several hundred other men into non-flying categories.
On February 19, 1940 he was promoted to Major, and by November the unit had been called into active federal service. Shortly after Pearl Harbor, Smith was transferred to Mitchel Field, Long Island to command a target towing squadron. Early in 1942 Smith served on a special commission for recruiting aviation cadets from the nation’s colleges. Later he became deputy air inspector for the first Air Force. Promoted to lieutenant colonel, he was assigned in 1944 as inspector with the 11th Air Force in Alaska. Smith flew many times up and down the Aleutian chain, and at one point he was executive officer at the airbase on Shemya—the base from which bombing raids against northern Japan were being launched.
He was promoted to full colonel and served for a brief period in Texas before his release from active duty. He returned to the Woonsocket Call, and was promoted to managing editor–a job he was to hold until he retired in 1962. His active flying career spanned about 30 years. He flew practically every type of plane except the jet, which came into active service about the time he gave up flying. For some time he was regarded as the dean of aviators in Rhode Island. He was a command pilot and also held a commercial pilots license. He died July 11, 1978, at the age of 81.
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