Published October 14, 2016
Lt. Col. (Sep.) Gene Smith entered the Air Force in 1956 after graduating and commissioning through the Air Force ROTC program. Smith’s first Air Force assignment was to navigator training. Smith was picked up for pilot training in 1961, three weeks before the age cut-off. On Oct. 25, 1967, he was sent on a mission to destroy the Doumer Bridge, a railroad bridge over the Red River in Hanoi, Vietnam, that was a critical link for supplies. Smith’s plane was shot down by 1950’s era Russian surface-to-air missiles over North Vietnam and he had to eject. Upon landing, he was shot in the leg, and then spent almost six years as a prisoner of war where he was interrogated and tortured. As a POW, Smith learned the tap code as a way to send messages to other POWs – it was the only way they could communicate as they were mostly kept in solitary confinement. Smith was released March 14, 1973, along with other POWs. Three days later, Smith was reunited with his wife, Rae, and his three sons.