Engineering Alumnus Luther Smith to Be Honored With Hawkeye Distinguished Veterans Memorial Award

The University of Iowa will honor the late Luther Smith, a member of the college's Distinguished Engineering Alumni Academy, along with five other members of the armed forces for exceptional service to their country and the Hawkeye community on November 15.

The ceremony, which starts at 5 p.m., will be emceed by Iowa State Representative and UI Alumnus Todd Prichard of Charles City, Iowa, who is a lieutenant colonel with the Army Reserve. Criteria for the award include a strong university connection, to have served honorably, military accomplishment, and service to their community.  Accepting the award for his father will be Gordon Smith, executive director/senior banker at JPMorgan Chase & Co., New York, NY.

Luther Smith grew up in Des Moines, Iowa, and, by 1940, was one of few black pilots in the U.S. Because the Army Air Corps did not initially allow black pilots, he began studying engineering at the University of Iowa. In 1942, he was accepted into the Tuskegee Institute Flying Program.

Upon completing flight training, Smith deployed with the Tuskegee Airmen to Europe in support of the Allied bombing campaigns during WWII. His service with the 32nd Fighter Group included 133 combat missions within eight months. During his final mission, he suffered serious injuries and was a POW for seven months. Due to those injuries, he was forced to retire in 1947. After graduating from the UI with a BS in mechanical engineering in 1950, Smith went on to become the first African American aerospace engineer for General Electric and served the company for the entire 38-year span of his career.

Smith’s awards and commendations for his military service include the Distinguished Flying Cross, Air Medal with six Oak Leaf Clusters, Purple Heart, eight Theaters Campaign Ribbons and the Prisoner of War Medal.

In addition to Smith, other recipients of the Hawkeye Distinguished Veterans Memorial Award will be Spc. 4 David Drake, U.S. Army; Cpt. Jeremy Williams, U.S. Army Reserves; HM Willard L. “Sandy” Boyd, U.S. Navy; ENS Nile Clark Kinnick, Jr., U.S. Navy; and Cpt. Hayden Fry, U.S. Marine Corps.

The event is sponsored by the UI Army ROTC and Air Force ROTC programs, the Division of Student Life/Iowa Memorial Union, UI Military and Veteran Student Services and the Hawkeye Distinguished Veterans Memorial Awards Committee.

Each award recipient also will be recognized with a plaque displayed in the Iowa Memorial Union, which was created to pay tribute to Iowans who served their country. The Memorial Honor Roll on the first floor of the IMU recognizes students and alumni who have given their lives in service to the nation as members of the armed forces. 

Cpt. Luther Smith, U.S. Army Air Corps