John J. Smith (burial)

by Editor on April 24, 2012

Committal Service with Military Honors

"J.J." Smith

"J.J." Smith

Saturday, April 28, 2012 @ 10:00am Graveside (Section 27 Lot 5 Grave 2B)

On 4 April 2012, John Joel Smith, of Lake Alfred (Cypress Greens), Florida, and former North Kingstown, Rhode Island resident; passed away of a fatal heart attack.

“J.J.,” as he was widely known, was one of the first two men to join the United States Navy at Syracuse, New York, the day after Pearl Harbor was attacked, and was formally inducted on 13 December 1941. He was married to his wife Irene K. Smith in 1942. They were married 62 years until her passing in October 2006. Mr. Smith served on Consolidated PBY-5 Catalina patrol aircraft with VPB-23 in the Southwest Pacific Theatre of Operations, during a large part of the Second World War. He once related a story about a flight which was made with Admiral Chester W. Nimitz aboard his plane; during which, Mr. Smith offered him a cup of coffee. J.J.’s squadron, was one of those that searched for the crew of President John F. Kennedy’s PT-109, after it was reported missing. Mr. Smith’s squadron was a participant of the Battle of Midway, first in finding the location of the Imperial Japanese fleet, and later, in the rescue of Ensign (later, Lt. Cmdr.) George H. Gay;  the sole survivor of the initial torpedo attack by 15 Douglas TBD-1 Devastators of VT-8, launched from the USS Hornet (CV-8) against the Japanese fleet. A long-standing participant in  his squadron reunions, and a member of the PBY Catalina International Association, J.J. knew Lt. Cmdr. Gay quite well. Lt. Cmdr. Gay participated in squadron reunions of VPB-23 until his death in 1994.

Following the war, J.J. remained in the USN, and was involved with the development of many pioneer jet aircraft and helicopters. He made several cruises to Europe and the Mediterranean aboard several different aircraft carriers, notably; the USS Wasp (CVS-18), during his last cruise. J.J., was also a crew member of a Sikorsky HSS-1 with HS-9 during their first deployment in the 1950s. HS-9, was an Anti-Submarine Warfare helicopter squadron which later served aboard the USS Nimitz (CVN-68), and was featured in the 1980 science-fiction movie, The Final Countdown. J.J. also served aboard Piasecki HUP-2 rescue helicopters, and Sikorsky H-3A Sea King helicopters, before retiring from the USN in 1962 as a Chief Petty Officer.

All three of Mr. Smith’s sons served in the United States Army during the Vietnam War; and his eldest son, Thomas Joel Smith, was killed in action while serving with the 240th. Assault Helicopter Company in June of 1968. In the autobiography of Roy P. Benavidez, the most highly decorated soldier of the Vietnam War, M. Sgt. (SF) Benavidez credits CW-2 Thomas J. Smith with saving his life during a special forces operation in April 1968.  During that time, J.J. Smith worked at the Naval Aircraft Repair Facility (NARF) at Quonset Point, R.I. (1962-1973).

In 1975, J.J. transfered after the Davisville, Rhode Island facility closed, to the US Naval Support Activity at Naples, Italy. Shortly thereafter,  J.J. and Irene moved to Italy to serve as a civilian employee at Aviano Air Base, a historic airfield dating back to the earliest days of Italian aviation. During the Cold War, Aviano was (and still is) one of the most important NATO bases in Southern Europe. After retiring in 1980, the Smiths returned to North Kingstown, Rhode Island, where they lived until 1987, when they then moved to Lake Alfred, Florida.

J.J. and his wife were avid golfers, and bowlers, and enjoyed a long, happy life, together. In addition to being an excellent golfer, he was a superb chess player. His wife, Irene, was particularly fond of playing cards and bowling.

He is survived by a sister, Betty, age 102, and three children; James Smith (Lake Alfred), David Smith (Ft. Myers), and their sister, Donna Smith (Springfield, Illinois). Mr. Smith, is also survived by several grandchildren, great-grandchildren, in-laws, and his caregiver, Ms. Sharmon Sims (Lake Alfred). At the time of his passing, J.J. was only 5 days short of being ninety-one-and-a-half years of age. He was preceded in death by his parents, and a sister, Florence Kennar; of Lake Alfred; who passed away at age 102 in January 2010.

For those who would like to attend, a memorial service will be held at 10:00 am on Saturday, 28 April, at the Quidnessett Memorial Cemetery (6365 Post Road, N. Kingstown, Rhode Island 02852. Tel: 401-884-7691).

On behalf of J.J., the entire Smith family would like to thank everyone for their kindness, and assistance during Mr. Smith’s declining health. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Fleet Reserve Association, Branch 42, N. Kingstown, Rhode Island (

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