Obituary: Calvin Smith / Member of Tuskegee Airmen

Nov. 23, 1924 - June 15, 2013

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Calvin Smith, among the last of the local Tuskegee Airmen of World War II fame, died June 15 and was buried Thursday with military honors at a Beaver County cemetery.

He was 88 and lived in Beaver Falls most of his life.

Mr. Smith's name will be inscribed with those of about 90 other airmen from the Pittsburgh region on a memorial to be unveiled in Sewickley in September. The groundbreaking is scheduled for next week.

Mr. Smith was a B-25 bombardier, and although the war ended before he saw combat, he was proud to be included.

The Tuskegee veterans were members of all-black U.S. Army Air Forces units who trained at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. Their numbers include more than 900 fighter pilots, some 300 of whom saw combat against the German Luftwaffe over Europe, North Africa and the Mediterranean while disproving 1940s notions that blacks were inferior pilots.

Mr. Smith served as a second lieutenant with the 477th Bombardment Group and trained on B-25 Mitchell bombers. He was preparing to ship out for action in the Pacific when the war ended in September 1945. "He was a gentle warrior type," said Regis Bobonis Sr., chairman of the Tuskegee Airmen Memorial of the Greater Pittsburgh Region. "He never called much attention to himself."

Born in Aliquippa in 1924, Mr. Smith graduated from Aliquippa High School and planned to go to Geneva College with aspirations of becoming a dentist. But the war intervened. Drafted in 1942, he trained in Kentucky and later in Indiana, where he was part of what later became known as the Freeman Field Mutiny, considered the first step toward desegregation of the military in 1949.

In April 1945, a group of black officers with the 477th stationed at Freeman Field in Indiana tried to enter an all-white officers' club and were arrested. Most were released. Later, however, some 100 black officers refused to sign an agreement indicating they understood that they weren't allowed in the club and were locked up for disobeying orders during wartime.

Mr. Smith was among them and ended up in jail for two weeks.

"He felt it was the right thing to do," said his son, Ahmses Maat, 54, of Desert Hot Springs, Calif. "They felt they were putting their lives on the line for the great American way," yet were still considered unequal.

"I don't know whether we thought it would help out. We were just rebelling in general because we felt it was wrong," Mr. Smith told the Beaver County Times in 2011. "At that time, discrimination was all over. It was just a way of life." The incident prompted the War Department to investigate segregation in the Army Air Forces; the military was integrated four years later.

Mr. Smith returned to Aliquippa after the war and married his wife, Betty. In 1950, they moved to Beaver Falls, where they raised their three children. Mr. Smith initially worked at the Armstrong Cork factory in Beaver Falls but spent most of his working life at Mackintosh-Hemphill in Midland as a template maker.

In his spare time, he was active in community life in Beaver Falls as a Mason and a high-ranking official with the Elks.

He was buried Thursday with a 21-gun salute at Sylvania Hills Memorial Park in Rochester.

Besides his son, Mr. Smith is survived by another son, Newt Smith II of Virginia, and a daughter, Denise Kirkland of Aliquippa. He is also survived by a sister, Ann Dawkins of Aliquippa.

obituaries

Torsten Ove: tove@post-gazette.com or 412-231-0132.


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