Army Aviation

This “Soldier’s Soldier” Did Not Serve Alone

Family Forum / By Judy Konitzer: Many are aware that an aviation icon recently passed at the age of 93 in his residence in Lawrenceville, Georgia. Tom [BG (Ret.) Tom Konitzer] and I had the privilege of attending MG (Ret.) James C. Smith’s Memorial Service on December 17, 2016 in Snellville, Georgia.

MG James C. Smith (center) during his promotion to major general receiving his new rank from wife, Doris (right), and father and mother, Cliff and Aurora Smith. / PHOTO PROVIDED BY THE SMITH FAMILY

While there, we visited with his family and friends, and heard eulogies, which brought back many memories of our times with this great Soldier’s Soldier.

I am sure that most “old-timers” will remember seeing Jim in his Stetson (CAV hat) at AAAA conventions, 1st Cav, and 6th Cav reunions, as well as numerous Fort Rucker events. We laughed along with the other attendees as his now grandson-in-law, Reverend Kurt Petersheim, officiated at the Memorial and Service of Celebration, and related his meeting the “General” for the first time at the 2007 AAAA Convention in Atlanta. Tom was AAAA President at the time, and we could actually visualize this scene.

We also remembered seeing his eldest son, Ripp, proudly pushing his Dad around in a wheelchair as receiving lines formed to pay respect and share “war stories.” Petersheim apparently was not too intimidated with all of this attention as he went on to marry the General’s granddaughter.

There were several eulogies from family members and friends, but I was particularly moved with the words spoken by MG Smith’s daughter, Heidi, who was kind enough to share some of these with us. They reminded me of how we as spouses are truly in this Profession of Arms together, and that we do indeed play a very important role in the successes of our Soldiers.

A Daughter’s Tribute to her Parents
“Following the recent passing of my father at 93, friends and family shared many stories about his 39-year Army career. From 17-year-old private to major general, a combat veteran of three wars, James C. Smith’s career was impressive by any measure. But behind the medals, commendations, and accomplishments was a humble man of faith who credited his wife of 66 years with making it possible for him to lead, achieve, and excel.”

“In many letters from dad over the years, he repeated that he wouldn’t be the man he had become without mom,” said one of my sisters.

Dad would frequently relate a story to young soldiers that illustrated his view of our mother as the “gold standard” for an Army wife. When a soldier would say he needed to be reassigned because his wife missed her family, my father would tell him about Doris. She followed dad to Germany in 1961 as the Berlin Wall was going up. Never outside the United States before, Doris bravely traveled from the states to Germany on a troop transport plane with five children in tow, the eldest just shy of 10 years old. The day Doris stepped off the plane in Frankfurt with those kids she was seven months pregnant with me.

“Now, THAT is an Army wife,” dad would tell the soldier. “Does your wife still need to go home?”

They say of military families that “they also serve who stand and wait.” My mother exemplified that credo, caring for seven children on her own for months and years while our father was away. She helped us write letters to him when we were young, saw to our educations, provided nutritious meals and created rich, family traditions. Her gentleness and warmth provided an ideal foil to the temperament of a hard-charging Cavalry trooper. Thank goodness, she is still here as an emotional rock for our family.

Today, I see all of us – Jim and Doris’ offspring – as original and varied combinations of these two remarkable personalities. Mission-focused, yet appreciating beauty in all its forms; driven to excellence, but with hearts for service. As exceptional a military leader, strategist and tactician as my father was, I believe the smartest thing he ever did was marry Doris Lewis. He would agree.”

The Memorial service concluded with military honors, the playing of Taps, and presentation of the American flag to Doris by the Honor Guard from Fort Gordon, Georgia.

Judy Konitzer is the family forum editor for ARMY AVIATION; questions and suggestions can be directed to her at judy@

Heidi Smith APR, CPRC resides in Sarasota, Florida and is the owner and president of Heidi Smith Communications, Inc., a strategic communications firm providing executive level consulting and public relations services.