News | Dec. 19, 2023

SECNAV Del Toro Presents Posthumous Distinguished Flying Cross to WWII Hero

Secretary of the Navy (SECNAV) Carlos Del Toro honored a World War II hero Aug. 16, presenting the Distinguished Flying Cross and Air Medal awards posthumously to Peter L. Smith.

Smith’s son, James, accepted the awards on his father’s behalf during a ceremony aboard the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum in New York.

“My father, like many thousands of his generation during the war, did his job day in and day out. In less than four years, his dedication led to defeating the Nazis and the empire of Japan concurrently,” James Smith said.

Del Toro thanked James Smith for “his tireless work to ensure his father received the recognition he deserved, and for preserving his father’s story of service during World War II.”

Aviation Radioman Third Class Petty Officer Peter Smith, a Troy, New York native, enlisted in the Navy on Feb. 2, 1942, two months after the Japanese attacks on Pearl Harbor. First rated as a storekeeper, Smith volunteered for flying duty, completing training as both an aviation radioman and an air gunner.

In June 1943, Smith was assigned to Composite Squadron (VC) 28, based at Henderson Airfield on Guadalcanal. During his time there, Smith flew as a member of a three-man crew in a TBF Avenger torpedo bomber and conducted 15 combat missions in support of troops on the ground at New Georgia. After returning to the U.S., Smith later re-deployed to the Pacific in 1944 with the newly-designated Torpedo Squadron (VT) 28, operating as a carrier-based squadron off USS Monterey (CVL 26). During his time with VT-28, Smith flew in operations to retake Marianas, Saipan, Tinian and Southern Palau from Japanese forces. He also supported the assaults on the Philippines and strikes against Okinawa. All told, Smith flew more than 150 combat and support missions during his 11 months with VT-28, before being honorably discharged in February 1946, after the conclusion of the war.

“I am humbled by the opportunity to honor Peter L. Smith—one of our Navy’s hundreds of thousands of World War II Veterans—for his service to our nation during a defining period in world history,” Del Toro said. “After the war, Smith, like so many members of this greatest generation, returned to their civilian careers, but forever remained proud of their service.”

James Smith thanked Del Toro on behalf of his father, calling the award presentation “a great honor for which our family is thankful.”

Congress established the Distinguished Flying Cross, July 2, 1926. It may be awarded to any Navy, Marine Corps or Coast Guard personnel, while serving in the capacity of the Armed Forces, who distinguish themselves for heroism or outstanding achievement while participating in aerial flight.

The Air Medal is awarded for sustained performance while participating in aerial flight under combat conditions.

In receiving the Distinguished Flying Cross, Petty Officer Smith joins the ranks of Charles Lindbergh and the Wright Brothers, as well as fellow Navy recipients President George H.W. Bush and Sen. John S. McCain.

“To Petty Officer Smith’s family, I am confident there is no doubt in your minds that his actions met the criteria above for these two awards. His devotion to duty in support of his fellow Sailors, Marines, Airmen and Soldiers was indeed unwavering throughout his time in service, and I have no doubt you take pride in his accomplishments to keep our nation free,” Del Toro said.