Recently, I met Keith R. Smith, Jr. at his Canyon Country home and I thoroughly enjoyed hearing his military experiences, seeing his wonderful memorabilia and especially checking his beautifully maintained 1928 Ford Phaeton. With this and a 1931 Victoria, he has toured in all 50 States and in many foreign lands.
Civilian Conservation Corp
Keith was born in Clarksburg, West Virginia, on Feb. 5, 1925.
His father served in the U.S. Army Reserves during The Great Depression which resulted in a number of relocations while Keith grew up.
In 1934, Keith’s Father was promoted to Captain and placed on active duty assigned to a Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) camp in Ironton, Ohio.
The CCC was created as a major portion of President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal during the Great Depression designed to put young American men to work.
Enrollees planted nearly 3 billion trees to help reforest America, constructed trails, lodges and related facilities in more than 800 parks across America. Keith’s father continued in the CCC until mid-1936.
In The Navy
In 1940, Keith’s father was recalled to active duty with the U.S. Army Air Corps and as a result, Keith graduated from Urbana, Illinois, High School in June 1942 – by which time our Country was fully embroiled in WWII.
Following high school Keith attended the University of Michigan. He promptly joined their Army ROTC Program just prior to his 18th birthday, and enrolled in the University of Michigan’s Navy V-1 College Program. He then transferred to the Naval V-5 Aviation Cadet Program in May 1943 as he completed his third semester.
Keith was called for active duty in August 1943, assigned to tarmac duty as a Seaman 2nd Class at Bunker Hill Naval Air Station, Indiana.
He returned to his Aviation Cadet status in November 1943, and completed Flight Preparatory Training at Wooster College, Ohio.
Later, while at Highland Park Jr. College, Michigan, Keith flew Piper J-3’s Cubs. However, as WWII began to wind down, the Naval V-5 program downsized and while at Iowa Preflight in August 1944, Keith took an offered Honorable Discharge.
U.S. Air Force Pilot
Keith enlisted as a Private in the U.S. Army Air Corps in September 1944 at Bolling Army Air Field, Virginia.
He transferred to Rosecrans Army Air Field, St. Joseph, Missouri, where he graduated Aircraft Mechanic’s School. By war’s end Keith was serving at Wright Field, Ohio.
Keith entered Administrative Officer’s Candidate School at Maxwell Army Air Field, Alabama, in September 1945. He was commissioned 2nd Lieutenant, Army Air Corps Jan. 26, 1946, which led to Pilot Training in October 1946 and becoming a U.S. Air Force pilot at Barksdale Army Air Field, Louisiana in 1947.
Major Keith R. Smith
Keith was assigned to the 316th Troop Carrier Group, 75th Squadron at Greenville Air Force Base, South Carolina, flying C-82 troop carriers and cargo gliders.
In 1950, he was the maintenance officer for the 2107th Air Weather Group Flight Section flying the C-47 and C-54 for two years in Alaska.
After Alaska, he attended the USAF Institute of Technology graduating as an electronics engineer in the fall of 1954.
Captain Smith was assigned to Flight Test at Wright-Patterson AFB testing Navigation and Landing Equipment.
In October 1958, he was transferred to the USAF Ballistic Missile and Space Systems Field Office in Palo Alto to help develop the Satellite Test Center and test, in orbit, the new, classified reconnaissance satellite systems.
Soon, he received another promotion and Major Keith R. Smith retired from the U.S. Air Force with 20 years of service in March 1964, holding the rating of Command Pilot.
Served his Country in Aerospace
Keith joined the Hughes Aircraft Company (HAC) as their Space Flight Operations Director based at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
He assisted in developing the JPL Space Flight Operations Facility and was part of the JPL/HAC operation crew that conducted the first Moon landing of the Surveyor Spacecraft.
In September 1966, Keith joined The Aerospace Corporation in El Segundo, a nonprofit contractor to the U.S. Air Force that provides architectural and engineering services to the Air Force Space and Missiles Center.
During his 23 years in the aerospace industry, he was assigned as an engineer on the Manned Orbital Laboratory, Air Transportation Systems Studies, Intelligence Data Transmission Systems and the design and construction of the Air Force Space Operations Center in Colorado.
Keith retired from Aerospace in March 1989.
Hot Date in a Hot Chrysler
Back to Keith’s early days, while attending high school Keith became quite active building and flying model airplanes and he joined a model airplane club.
The first time he saw Elaine Nance was when she joined her mother to pick up her younger brother who was in that same airplane club.
Since he was much more interested in airplanes, however, he didn’t pay much attention to Elaine.
Later Keith’s friend, Jerry, wanted to take Elaine’s best friend, Virginia Mae, to their high school prom but Virginia Mae refused, wanting to double date with Elaine.
Thus Jerry sought to arrange a prom date for Elaine.
Jerry appealed to Keith promising him that he could drive his uncle’s brand spanking new Chrysler that sported a new innovation – an automatic transmission.
He needed Keith for two reasons: Virginia Mae wouldn’t go without Elaine, and Keith had a driver’s license while Jerry did not. Keith just couldn’t resist driving that hot Chrysler and that was the first of many dates to come.
Keith and Elaine were married July 9, 1943 at the First Methodist Church in Clarksburg, West Virginia.
They had two sons. Keith III was born in 1946 and served with the U.S. Air Force from 1968 to 1971. Son Terry was born in 1949 and was a Bronze Star Vietnam combat Veteran with the U.S. Army. Sadly, Terry passed away in 2010.
Keith has three grandchildren and two great grandchildren.
Tragically, Elaine became afflicted with breast cancer in 1982 which led to her death on May 21, 1996.
1928 Ford Phaeton
Keith has lived in Southern California since June 1964, first in Woodland Hills, then Agoura Hills in 1985, and then Canyon Country in 1997.
Keith and Elaine had met Joann Mosher at the San Fernando Valley Model A Club. After Elaine’s death, Keith and Joann realized that they had much in common. They began seeing each other, which led them to elope to Palm Springs and marry on Nov. 20, 1998.
Keith is a member of The Order of Daedalians, a pilot’s association and his hobbies include model airplanes, reading, and computers.
He’s also a videographer, however, his true passion was touring America and foreign countries with Joann in his Model A Fords and now he drives his 1928 Ford Phaeton locally. Look for him in our SCV Independence Day Parade.