OSI colonel’s name added to National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Wall

  • Published
  • By Thomas Brading
  • OSI Public Affairs

Nearly 70 years since his death, the name of Col. Eugene Smith, an Office of Special Investigations officer killed in a 1952 plane crash, was formally recognized at the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial, May 13, during a candlelit vigil at the National Mall.

Smith's name was etched into the memorial last month, following 10-months of research by Robert Vanderpool, OSI's command historian, who determined his eligibility for inclusion on the law enforcement memorial. This research involved reviewing OSI's "Last Roll Call Roster."

“It feels special to have a member of the family, who served this country and passed way too soon, memorialized in an amazing part of this country’s history,” said Jim Coen, a living relative of Smith. “We are especially grateful for him to be memorialized as a member of the OSI. He was one of the original members and was very proud to serve his country with such a prestigious unit.”

Smith was memorialized during Police Week 2023.

“The addition of Col. Smith’s name to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial is representative of the overall effort that OSI regularly undertakes to pay respects to and remember those who came before us,” Vanderpool said. “His recognition was long overdue, but it is well deserved.”

Vanderpool's research compared the cause of death of everyone against the inclusion standards set by the memorial. To date, 16 Special Agents and two Honorary Special Agents are listed on the NLEOM.

“This means a great deal to our family,” said Susan Beckman, Smith’s cousin. “We feel that Col. Smith deserves recognition for all that he has accomplished in his military career. All of our lives we have honored this man. I have been blessed with actually remembering him.”

Beckman added that Smith would not be one to brag about his accomplishments himself, but he would be proud to have his name listed, she said.

“What I am most grateful for was the opportunity this effort presented to reconnect OSI with the Smith family,” Vanderpool said. “This goes beyond a name on the memorial as it has reestablished a tangible link with his family that has really brought OSI’s memory of Col. Smith back to life.”

Smith was born in County Cavan, Ireland, on Dec. 10, 1913. His family immigrated to the United States in 1926, settling in Wilmington, Delaware, where he pursued sports and joined the Delaware National Guard. After graduating from the University of Maryland, he served in various roles throughout World War II, earning numerous honors and rising to the rank of lieutenant colonel.

Following the war, Smith remained in Germany and joined the Office of Strategic Services, the precursor to today's Central Intelligence Agency. There, he supervised notable criminal investigations in occupied Germany before being transferred to the Pentagon and eventually the Air Force in 1948, when the Office of Special Investigations was activated.

In 1952, he received orders to Alaska, where he assumed responsibility as the director of OSI Alaskan Command. On Nov. 22, 1952, Smith traveled on board an Air Force C-124 Globemaster II transport, which disappeared on its way to Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska.

Beckman, much younger than Smith, has vivid memories of her cousin visiting while on leave.

“I remember when he would come home on leave, we would all get dressed up and go to my grandparents to see him,” Beckman said. “Col. Smith could not stand to see a baby or toddler in a playpen, at the time they were wooden. [He would] take the child out, stating that no child should be behind bars. He was a very family-oriented person. His family was very important to him, particularly his mother. He credited all of his success to her.”

The wreckage remained lost for 60 years before eventually being discovered on Mount Gannett, Alaska, in 2012. Investigators determined that a navigational error caused by weather conditions led to the crash. Smith's remains were identified in 2014 and buried with full military honors in Delaware.

“We have a solemn obligation to continue to recognize the legacy built by those who came before us. We honor them by celebrating the lives they lived and by remembering the sacrifices they made,” Vanderpool said.

The quest to add Smith's name to the National Law Enforcement Memorial began in 2014, Vanderpool said, but an application was never completed.

‘We lost Uncle Gene over 70 years ago,” Coen said. “Over those years, his memory was carried on inside our family.  Bringing him home and laying him to rest and now seeing him memorialized in the nation’s capital so many years later is an extremely special honor.  It truly feels incredible for us to experience this in his memory on behalf of his late family members.”

In Dec. 2022, the OSI History Office prepared a formal application package, which was reviewed and endorsed by Brig. Gen. Terry Bullard, OSI’s commander. On Dec. 19, 2022, the application was approved, with Smith's name set to be added to the memorial in 2023.

“It is an honor to recognize and pay tribute to Col Smith’s service, sacrifice and dedication to his country,” Bullard said. “His addition to the memorial reminds us of the risks that law enforcement officers face every day to ensure our safety and security.”