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Tigers: Tracking a Legend
Donavon F. Smith
Lt. Gen. Donavon F. Smith was born in Dowagiac, Michigan in 1922. His family moved to Niles, Michigan and he graduated from Niles High School in 1940. He entered the aviation cadet program in January, 1942.
Smith was assigned to the 61st Fighter Squadron, 56th Fighter Group in England where he remained throughout his combat career, becoming squadron commander. He flew 385 combat hours during 123 combat missions in P-47 Thunderbolts. He became a fighter ace with eighty enemy aircraft destroyed-six in arial combat. Three aircraft were shot down on a single mission over Emden, Germany on December 11, 1943, for which he was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross.
In March, 1945, Smith returned to the United States for new assignments, including one at the headquarters of the Army Air Forces in Washington, D.C. In May, 1946 he was assigned to Strategic Air Command at Selfridge Field in Michigan as commander of the 61st Fighter Squadron, and then to assignment with the 56th Fighter Group. In 1948, he served as operations officer in the first overseas deployment of jet fighter aircraft from Selfridge Field to Germany, and back.
Smith was assigned as the U.S. Air Force-Royal Air Force exchange officer and served as commander of the No. 1 RAF Fighter Squadron in Tangmere, England from August, 1949 to September, 1950. From 1950 to 1956, he served with Air Defense Command in various assignments, then returned to Europe as commander of the 21st Fighter-Bomber Group in Chambley, France.
Smith again returned to the U.S. in 1960 and was assigned as director of North American Air Defense Command Operations, 25th NORAD Region, and then as commander of the 325th Fighter Interceptor Wing. In October, 1966 he was named chief advisor to the Republic of Vietnam Air Force. In the U.S. he was appointed vice commander of the Ninth Air Force, and then commander of the Nineteenth Air Force. In August, 1972, he was appointed commander of the Alaskan Air Command.
Smith was promoted to major general in August, 1969, and to lieutenant general in July, 1973. He retired on November 1, 1973, and died on September 10, 1974. In 1975, the city of Niles named its Veterans Memorial Park the "Donavan Smith Memorial Park." His military decorations and awards include the Distinguished Service Cross, Distinguished Service Medal, Distinguished Flying Cross with three oak leaf clusters, Air Medal with eight oak leaf clusters, Air Force Commendation Medal, Distinguished Unit Citation with one oak leaf cluster, as well as awards from the Republic of Vietnam.
Lt. Gen. Donavon F. Smith was enshrined into the Michigan Aviation Hall of Fame on May 19, 2012.