Oliver P. Smith
Oliver Prince Smith
|Nickname(s)||"O.P.", "the professor", "student general"|
|Born||October 26, 1893|
|Died||December 25, 1977 (aged 84)|
Los Altos, California
|Place of burial|
Golden Gate National Cemetery, San Francisco, California
|Allegiance||United States of America|
|Service/||United States Marine Corps|
|Years of service||1917–1955|
|Commands held||Fleet Marine Force, Atlantic|
Assistant Commandant USMC
1st Marine Division
5th Marine Regiment
1st Battalion 6th Marines
|Awards||Distinguished Service Cross|
Navy Distinguished Service Medal
Army Distinguished Service Medal
Legion of Merit (2)
Oliver Prince Smith (October 26, 1893 – December 25, 1977) was a highly decorated combat veteran of World War II and the Korean War. He is most noted for commanding the 1st Marine Division during the Battle of Chosin Reservoir, where he said "Retreat, hell! We're not retreating, we're just advancing in a different direction." He retired at the rank of four-star general, being advanced in rank for having been specially commended for heroism in combat.
Smith was born in Menard, Texas, and grew up in Northern California. He attended the University of California, Berkeley, working his way through college doing odd jobs but mostly gardening and was a member of Alpha Kappa Lambda Fraternity He graduated in 1916 and reported for active duty as a second lieutenant in the Marine Corps on May 14, 1917.
The following month he was assigned his first overseas tour at Guam, Marianas Islands, where he served with the Marine Barracks, Naval Station. While in Guam, (then) Lieutenant Smith was married to Esther Laurilla King of Hayward, California. They remained married for 58 years. In May 1919, he returned to the United States for duty with the Marine barracks at Mare Island, California.
Ordered to sea duty in October 1921, Lieutenant Smith served as commanding officer of the Marine detachment aboard the USS Texas (BB-35) until May 1924. At that time he was assigned to Marine Corps Headquarters, Washington, D.C., for duty with the personnel section.
Returning overseas in June 1928, he joined the Gendarmerie d'Haiti, Port-au-Prince, as assistant chief of staff. Following his return from foreign shore duty in June 1931, he became a student at the Field Officer's Course, U.S. Army Infantry School, Fort Benning, Georgia. Graduating in June 1932, he was ordered to duty at the Marine Corps Schools, Quantico, Virginia, as an instructor in the Company Officers' Course. In September 1933, he was named assistant operations officer of the 7th Marine Regiment at Quantico.
Smith sailed for France in January 1934, where he joined the staff of the American Embassy in Paris for duty with the Office of the U.S. Naval Attaché. From November 1934 to July 1936, while in Paris, he became the first Marine Corps officer to matriculate at the Ecole Supérieure de Guerre.
He returned to the United States in August 1936, and joined the staff of the Marine Corps Schools at Quantico, as an instructor in the S-3 Section, (Operations and Training). He acquired the nickname "the professor," gained a reputation as an intellectual during these years and was recognized as an expert on amphibious warfare.
In June of the following year, he became commanding officer of the 1st Battalion, 6th Marines, and in May 1941, sailed with the 6th Marine Regiment for Iceland where he remained until returning to the United States in March 1942.
World War II
In May 1942, Smith was ordered to Headquarters Marine Corps, Washington, D.C., where he became executive officer of the Division of Plans and Policies. He remained in this capacity until January 1944, when he joined the 1st Marine Division on New Britain. There he took command of the 5th Marine Regiment and subsequently led the regiment in the Talasea phase of the Cape Gloucester operation.
In April 1944, he was named assistant division commander of the 1st Marine Division and participated in operations against the Japanese in the Peleliu operation during September and October 1944.
In July 1945, he returned to the United States and became commandant of the Marine Corps Schools, Quantico, and in January 1948, was named commanding general, Marine Barracks, Quantico, in addition to his duties at the school. Three months later, he became assistant commandant of the Marine Corps and chief of staff, Headquarters Marine Corps, Washington, D.C. While there he served as editor-in-chief of the professional journal of U.S. Marines, the Marine Corps Gazette.
Named Commanding General of the 1st Marine Division in June 1950, Major General Smith led his division through the bitter campaigns of the Korean War — from the late summer assault at Inchon, to the sub-zero winter drive north to the Chosin Reservoir.
In October 1950, the 1st Marine Division landed at Wonsan on the eastern side of Korea under the command of the Army's X Corps commanded by Edward Almond. Almond and Smith shared a mutual loathing dating back to a meeting between the two in Japan before the Inchon landing. During the meeting Almond had spoken of how easy amphibious landings were although he had never planned, or taken part, in one, and then referred to Smith as son although he was only 10 months older than Smith. Smith and the Marine command also felt Almond was too aggressive and were sure about large numbers of Chinese Forces in North Korea when higher headquarters in Tokyo was telling them that was not the case. Although ordered to go north to the Yalu River as fast as he could, Smith continuously slowed the division's march to the point of near insubordination. Also along the way he established supply points and an airfield.
In November 1950, with the 1st Marine Division surrounded at the Chosin Reservoir, he directed the breakout and subsequent 70 miles (110 km) march to the seaport of Hungnam. In the end his careful march north and ability to keep the division together saved it from total destruction and quite possibly the entire X Corps.
There is evidence that Smith misstated the contribution of United States Army units under his command to the effort at Chosin. 31st Infantry Regimental Combat Team (also known as "Task Force Faith" or "Task Force Maclean"), which protected his right flank and took the brunt of a reinforced CCF corps for five days was not included in Smith's recommendation for the Presidential Unit Citation after the battle. Thirty years later, the CCF commanders, Gen Song and Gen Peng, attributed the 31st RCT with breaking their offensive and preventing them from achieving their objectives. In the 1990s, as records from China were made available, new books on the conduct of 31st RCT were published-such as East Of Chosin. Because of the new research Task Force Faith eventually was awarded the PUC.
General Smith returned to the United States, in May 1951, and was assigned duties as commanding general, Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, California.
In July 1953, he was advanced to the rank of lieutenant general and assumed his final duties as commanding general, Fleet Marine Force, Atlantic, and served in this capacity until his retirement, with the rank of general, on September 1, 1955.
Smith died in Los Altos, California on December 25, 1977.
|1st Row||Distinguished Service Cross||Navy Distinguished Service Medal||Army Distinguished Service Medal|
|2nd Row||Silver Star||Legion of Merit with Combat "V" & Gold award star||Bronze Star with Combat "V"||Air Medal|
|3rd Row||Navy Presidential Unit Citation with three award stars||Navy Unit Commendation||Marine Corps Expeditionary Medal||World War I Victory Medal|
|4th Row||American Defense Service Medal with Base clasp||American Campaign Medal||European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal||Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with three 3/16 inch service stars|
|5th Row||World War II Victory Medal||National Defense Service Medal||Korean Service Medal with silver 3/16 inch service star||Haitian Distinguished Service Medal with Diploma|
|6th Row||Order of Orange-Nassau, Grade Commander||Order of National Security Merit, Tong-il Medal with Silver star||Korean Presidential Unit Citation||United Nations Korea Medal|
- "Retreat of the 20,000". Time Magazine. 1950-12-18.
- Russ, Breakout, p.51.
- For Country and Corps: The life of General Oliver P. Smith, Gail B. Shisler, Naval Institute Press, 2009
- Hammel Chosin, p. 214.
- Halberstam The Coldest Winter p. 428.
- Halberstam The Coldest Winter pp. 429.
- Halberstam The Coldest Winter pp. 430.
- This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the United States Marine Corps.
- Fehrenbach, T. R. (1963). This Kind of War. Dulles, Virginia: Brassey's. ISBN 1-57488-259-7.
- Halberstam, David (2007). The Coldest WInter – America and the Korean War. New York: Hyperion. ISBN 978-1-4013-0052-4.
- Hastings, Max (2007). Retribution – The Battle for Japan, 1944-45. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. ISBN 978-0-307-26351-3.
- Russ, Martin (1999). "Breakout" – The Chosin Reservoir Campaign, Korea, 1950. Penguin Books. ISBN 0-14-029259-4.
- Shisler, Gail (2009). For Country and Corps: The Life of General Oliver P. Smith. Naval Institute Press. ISBN 978-1-59114-826-5.
- Sides, Hampton (2018). On Desperate Ground: The Marines at The Reservoir, the Korean War's Greatest Battle. Doubleday. ISBN 9780385541152.
- "General Oliver P. Smith, USMC". Who's Who in Marine Corps History. History Division, United States Marines Corps. Archived from the original on 2011-05-16. Retrieved 2007-12-01.
- "KWCC Biography – Smith". Korean War Commemoration. U.S. Army. Archived from the original on February 8, 2007. Retrieved 2006-12-16.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Oliver P. Smith.|
- Clifton La Bree (2001). The Gentle Warrior: General Oliver Prince Smith, USMC. Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press. ISBN 0-87338-686-8.
|Wikiquote has quotations related to: Oliver P. Smith|
- Gail B. Shisler (2009). For Country and Corps: The Life of General Oliver P. Smith. Annapolis, Maryland: Naval Institute Press. ISBN 978-1-59114-826-5.