Clarence 'Del' Smith

Born: Aug. 13, 1920

Died: Dec. 9, 2006

Remembered for: Served as pilot of California One, the governor's official state airplane; received the Distinguished Flying Cross and Air Medal as Army Air Corps pilot in World War II; appointed assistant adjutant general of the California National Guard

Survived by: Wife, June Smith of Roseville; son, John D. Smith of Port Angeles, Wash.; and one granddaughter

Memorial services: None

Obituary: Clarence 'Del' Smith kept governors airborne

By Robert D. Dávila - Bee Staff Writer
Published 12:00 am PST Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Clarence "Del" Smith, a World War II aviator who became the pilot of California One, the official state airplane used by several governors, died Saturday. He was 86.

He died of natural causes in Roseville, said his son, John Smith.

The elder Mr. Smith joined the Army Air Corps during World War II, flying C-47 cargo planes carrying troops to Europe and Africa.

He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Air Medal and joined the California Air National Guard as a captain when the war ended.

"He loved to fly, and the only way he could keep flying was to join the Guard," his son said.

Mr. Smith was at Van Nuys Airport near Los Angeles one day when Gov. Earl Warren approached and said he needed a flight back to Sacramento. He flew Warren's state plane, a former C-47, and became the governor's personal pilot.

Formally known as California One, the aircraft also was dubbed "The Grizzly" for a California bear painted on the nose. Converted for civilian use in 1947, the plane was upgraded to include Naugahyde walls, a lounge, bunk beds, an oven, refrigerator and a small bar, the Riverside Press Enterprise reported in 2004.

Mr. Smith piloted the plane on government business and political fundraisers in California and nearby states, his son said. Most trips were uneventful, except for a lightning bolt that hit the plane on one flight carrying Warren over Southern California.

"It really shook the people up on board, but nobody was hurt," John Smith said.

Mr. Smith also flew for Govs. Goodwin Knight and Edmund G. "Pat" Brown. He stopped flying before Ronald Reagan was elected governor and returned the aircraft to military use. The plane is being restored as California One at March Field Air Museum in Riverside.

"We're bringing it back to the way it was when it made history," museum Executive Director Patricia Korzec said.

Mr. Smith remained in the California Guard and was appointed assistant adjutant general in 1965. As the No. 2 official, he briefly oversaw the deployment of Guard members in Los Angeles during the 1965 Watts riots while the adjutant general returned from out of state. He retired as a brigadier general in 1968.

He was born in 1920 and raised in Los Angeles. He briefly attended community college before joining the Army Air Corps at the start of World War II, his son said.

He was a sports car buff and early member of the Sacramento Sports Car Club who drove foreign speedsters, including MGs, an Austin Healey and a Porsche. He also enjoyed flying radio-controlled planes, playing golf and traveling to England and Hawaii.

"He was just a really nice guy who loved airplanes and the freedom of flying," his son said. "Whether it was a janitor or an officer, he was friendly with everyone."

Obituary courtesy of: The Sacramento Bee

This article is protected by copyright and should not be printed or distributed for anything except personal use.
The Sacramento Bee, 2100 Q St., P.O. Box 15779, Sacramento, CA 95852
Phone: (916) 321-1000