SMITH, HOMER LEROY
Remains Returned 16 March 1974
Name: Homer Leroy Smith
Rank/Branch: O4/US Navy
Unit: Attack Squadron 212, USS BON HOMME RICHARD
Date of Birth: 06 February 1926
Home City of Record: Alma WV
Date of Loss: 20 May 1967
Country of Loss: North Vietnam
Loss Coordinates: 211100N 1064500E (XJ816432)
Status (in 1973): Prisoner of War
Other Personnel in Incident: (none missing)
Source: Compiled by Homecoming II Project 15 May 1990 from one or more of
the following: raw data from U.S. Government agency sources, correspondence
with POW/MIA families, published sources, interviews. Updated by the P.O.W.
REMARKS: 740316 REMS RETND
EGRESS: Seen after shootdown with hands raised - helmet on display in Hanoi
SYNOPSIS: The USS BON HOMME RICHARD (CVA 31) saw early Vietnam war action. A
World War II Essex-class carrier, she was on station participating in combat
action against the Communists as early as August 1964. Her aircraft carried
the first Walleye missiles when they were introduced in 1967, and her Attack
Squadron 212 was the first Walleye bomb squadron. In November 1970, the BON
HOMME RICHARD completed its sixth combat deployment and was scheduled for
decommissioning by mid-1971.
LTCDR Homer L. Smith had been the skipper of Attack Squadron 212 onboard the
BON HOMME RICHARD when he returned to Vietnam to fly his 200th combat
mission. As a commander, this Naval Academy graduate was well-respected and
had a reputation for being hard-nosed.
LTCDR Smith launched from the Bonnie Dick on a combat mission over North
Vietnam on May 20, 1967. About 15 miles north of the city of Haiphong, his
aircraft was hit by enemy fire and crashed. A shipmate, T.R. Swartz, related
later that he had known Smith was worried about the mission from the way he
smoked nervously during the briefing. "Sure enough," continues Swartz, "he
got tagged with a gun..." Smith ejected successfully and landed on the
ground safely, but rescue teams could not recover him because of the hostile
threat in the area.
Homer Smith was captured by the Vietnamese, and according to another Navy
officer, was tortured to death. The officer is certain, in his own mind,
that Smith was as hard-nosed as a POW as he was as a commander. It was not
possible to resist utterly and survive.
There had been some dispute about the validity of the Code in Vietnam, an
undeclared war. American POWs who had flown with Homer L. Smith would have
had no doubt as to what was expected of them as prisoners - the Code of
Conduct would apply to anyone captured. The knowledge, however, was a
two-edged sword - on one hand, the captives were glad to understand the
guidelines. On the other, when they "broke" (which inevitable they did),
immense guilt and shame ensued. Eventually, as they communicated with one
another, everyone understood that they had only to do their best. The few
who resisted utterly were tortured horribly.
On March 15, 1974, the Vietnamese returned the remains of Homer L. Smith to
U.S. control with no further explanation.
For hundreds of others, however, a homecoming has not occurred. Some one
hundred Americans who were known to be prisoners of war were not released at
the end of the war. Since the war ended, the torment of these men's families
is heightened by the the nearly 10,000 reports relating to Americans missing
in Southeast Asia that have been received by the U.S. Many of the missing
were suspected to be held prisoner, and still others were in radio contact
with would-be rescuers when last seen alive. Many were known to have
survived their loss incidents, only to disappear without a trace.
The problem of Americans still missing torments not only the families of
those who are missing, but the men who fought by their sides, and those in
the general public who realize the full implication of leaving men
unaccounted for at the end of a war.
Tragically, many authorities believe there are hundreds of Americans still
alive in captivity in Southeast Asia today. What must they be thinking of
us? What would Homer L. Smith have said if he knew his country would abandon
her best men? What will our next generation say if called to fight if we are
unable to bring these men home from Southeast Asia?
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