William A. Smith, saw 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor

May 11, 1994|By Fred Rasmussen | Fred Rasmussen,Sun Staff Writer

William A. Smith, a retired intelligence officer who as a Navy ensign witnessed the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, died May 2 of cancer at Bethesda Naval Medical Center. The former Baltimorean was 78.

He retired in 1975 as an intelligence officer at the National Security Agency. Earlier, he had worked for the Department of Defense at the Pentagon where he began his career after World War II.

Before the war, he had been a member of the Naval Reserves and was called to active duty as an ensign in 1941. That year, he arrived at Pearl Harbor aboard the mine sweeper USS Zane three days before the Japanese attack on Dec. 7.

"He was at Waikiki when the attack began," recalled his brother, George A. Smith of Timonium.

"He struggled to get back to his ship which was berthed at Ford Island by begging rides," his brother continued. "Once he got there, he found the USS Zane undamaged because the Japanese pilots were after bigger game than mine sweepers. He always described the surrounding scene as 'horrible.' "

William Smith and his ship participated in the campaigns on Guadalcanal and other locations in the Solomon Islands, the Gilbert Islands, the Marshall Islands and the Mariana Islands.

In 1945 he was given command of the USS Elliott, a mine sweeper. Later that same year, he was discharged with the rank of lieutenant commander.

He was recalled to active duty during the Korean conflict and retired from the Navy Reserve in 1961 with the rank of commander.

He was born and reared in Northeast Baltimore and graduated from Loyola High School in 1933 and from Loyola College in 1937. The Bethesda resident sang in the choir of St. Jane Frances de Chantal Roman Catholic Church and also taught drawing to elementary school students.

A Mass of Christian burial will be offered at 11 a.m. today at St. Jane Frances de Chantal Church, 9601 Old Georgetown Road, Bethesda, with interment with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery.

In addition to his brother, survivors include his wife of 50 years, the former Joan O'Connor; three sons, Michael A. Smith of Ellicott City, Mark Smith of Huntsville, Ala., and Matthew Smith of Bethesda; and a daughter, Susan Benson of El Paso, Texas.

Memorial donations may be made to the Little Sisters of the Poor, 4200 Harewood Road N.E., Washington, D.C. 200017.

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