Luther H. Smith of Villanova, PA, was a retired U.S. Air Force captain who flew 133 combat missions in World War II, and was a retired General Electric Co. engineer with 37 years service and two U.S. patents. A native of Des Moines, IA, Captain Smith was an original member of the famed Tuskegee Airmen. He flew 133 missions and is credited with destroying two German enemy aircraft in aerial combat and 10 German aircraft in ground strafing missions. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, Air Medal with six Oak Leaf Clusters, Purple Heart, eight European and Mediterranean Theaters Campaign Ribbons, and the Prisoner of War Medal after being permanently injured on his final combat mission, parachuting while unconscious from his burning P-51 Mustang aircraft, and held as a prisoner for seven months until the war ended.
After earning his B.S. degree at The University of Iowa, Captain Smith worked for GE’s Missile and Space Operations in Philadelphia until his retirement in 1988. He held two U.S. patents, had published numerous technical documents and publications, and worked on special assignments with the U.S. Air Force, NASA, and U.S. Navy Submarine Command. Captain Smith was a recipient of the Society of Automotive Engineers, Aerospace International, Franklin W. Kolk Aerospace Industry Award. He served on the Architect-Engineer Evaluation Jury that chose the design for the World War II Memorial, and worked tirelessly to gain recognition for the contributions of the Tuskegee Airmen. In June 2004, he headed the 60th anniversary celebration of the Tuskegee Airmen’s greatest World War II achievement, escorting American heavy strategic bombers on 200 missions throughout Europe without the loss of a single bomber to enemy aircraft.
Until his death in 2009, Captain Smith contributed significantly to the achievement of racial equality in the U.S. and the world and helped change the face of the U.S. military in a remarkably short period of time. In 2005, he was inducted as a member of the College of Engineering's Distinguished Engineering Alumni Academy. In February 2006, Smith received an honorary doctorate degree in public service from Tuskegee University. In June 2006, he was awarded the UI Alumni Association Distinguished Alumni Award for Achievement and in October 2006 he was inducted into the Iowa Aviation Hall of Fame. In March 2007, Smith was presented the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest civilian award bestowed by the U.S. Congress.
Click here to view an Iowa Public Television "Iowa Pathways" video feature on Smith.