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William Y. Smith

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William Y. Smith (1925-) is a retired general in the United States Air Force, whose last assignment was as deputy commander of the United States European Command. After retiring from uniformed service, he was President of the Institute for Defense Analyses.

He has been involved with encouraging appropriate access to military and intelligence information. He is a Director, George Washington University National Security Archive and a board member of the Center for National Security Studies. An assistant to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the Cuban Missile Crisis, he wrote a 1994 book about it with the Soviet commander, Gen. Anatoli Gribkov. [1] In 2004, he spoke against the military policies of George W. Bush as a member of Diplomats and Military Commanders for Change.

In 1991, he was part of an Office of Technology Assessment study to analyze U.S. strategy for the post-Cold War era. [2]

Senior assignments

Promoted to general in 1979, he became chief of staff for Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe, Belgium, and assumed his present duties in June 1981.[3]

In October 1973 General Smith transferred to Air Force headquarters and served as director of doctrine, concepts and objectives in the Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff, Plans and Operations. In July 1974 he was appointed director of policy plans and National Security Council affairs, Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs. He became Assistant of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in September 1975.

He was appointed vice commander of the Oklahoma City Air Materiel Area, now the Oklahoma City Air Logistics Center in August 1971, and become commander in June 1972. The center provided logistics support for U.S. Air Force weapon systems that includes B-52s and associated missiles, A-7D's, C-135s and its configurations ranging from tankers to airborne command posts, command control communications systems, aircraft engines for Major Air Force combat and airlift aircraft, and component parts for various Air Force equipment.


Following his return to the United States in July 1968, he became military assistant to the secretary of the Air Force, serving first with Secretary Harold Brown and subsequently with Secretary Robert C. Seamans Jr. In this position it was General Smith's job to advise and assist the secretary on matters of substance, particularly operational, budgetary, joint-service and system acquisition matters. In addition he carried out special projects for the secretary.

General Smith went to the National War College in August 1964 and after graduation in June 1965, was assigned to Headquarters U.S. Air Forces in Europe, Lindsey Air Station, Germany. He worked first in the Policy and Negotiations Division and later as chief, War Plans Division, both under the deputy chief of staff for operations. In July 1967 he became commander of the 603rd Air Base Wing at Sembach Air Base, Germany.

Cuban Crisis

The Bay of Pigs invasion, in April 1961, according to Smith, "split the US government, in the sense that the President Kennedy thought the US military had let him down and therefore he had less use for the US military, less respect for them. He felt that the Central Intelligence Agency also had let him down and they also had some rebuilding to do. So within the United States government it had sort of left the Kennedy administration in disarray and trying to regroup. At a more important level, at least to me, the Kennedys did not like losing and they did not like the result of the Bay of Pig and they determined that they had to do something about Castro and therefore they started a clandestine program to remove Castro from power..." Operation MONGOOSE. At the time, working for General Maxwell Taylor, he knew of things "we were doing to distract Castro and to cause him difficulty, but the Mongoose Program itself, I think, it was one of the most closely held secrets in the United States at that time."[4]

In July 1961 he moved to the White House as Air Force staff assistant to General Maxwell D. Taylor who was then military representative to President John F. Kennedy. When General Taylor became chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in 1962, General Smith worked in a dual capacity as an assistant to the chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff, and as a staff member on the National Security Council under McGeorge Bundy.

While Taylor became aware of the missiles in Cuba on October 14, 1962, Smith started assisting him on the 20th., preparing for Kennedy's Cuban Missile Crisis announcement on the 22nd.
Khrushchev's primary reason for putting missiles in Cuba was, in my view, to raise Soviet nuclear strike capability against the United States and therefore to somehow to make more even the ability of the Soviet Union to strike the United States with nuclear weapons. I think another reason that he did it, as a secondary reason... that's the primary reason, the secondary reason was that because of Operation Mongoose, which a lot of people in the United States didn't know about, but a lot of people in Cuba knew that something was going on that was, you know, trying to disrupt Castro, the United States military was conducting a lot of military exercises, which gave the impression that we might be contemplating an invasion of Cuba and we did that purposely to make Castro think that so he would pay more attention to that than causing trouble in Latin and Central America. But the Cubans and the Russians, they told us later, believed that the United States really did intend to attack Cuba and therefore Castro kept saying, I need some help and agreed when Khrushchev says, well, if you need some help, I'll put some missiles there. Another reasons was to help Castro protect himself against an attack against the United States, but as I said, I think that was a secondary reason.[4]

Staff and teaching

From August 1954 to July 1958, the general taught government, economic and international relations, and attained the rank of associate professor at the U.S. Military Academy. He attended the Air Command and Staff College from August 1958 to June 1959. He spent that summer on special assignment with the president's committee to study the U.S. Military Assistance Program, the Draper Committee. In the fall he become a planning and programming officer with the deputy director of war plans in the Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff, Plans and Programs, Headquarters U.S. Air Force, Washington, D.C.

Korean War

In March 1951 General Smith was assigned to the 27th Fighter Escort Group at Itazuke Air Base, Japan, and flew combat missions over Korea in F-84 Thunderjets. He spent two months as a forward air controller with the U.S. Army's 25th Infantry Division. He next joined the 49th Fighter-Bomber Group and served as operations officer for combat crew training at Itazuke, then as assistant group operations officer at Taegu Air Base, South Korea, flying combat missions until hit by flak and wounded on his 97th mission.

After prolonged hospitalization, General Smith attended Harvard University for graduate study in preparation for a teaching assignment with the department of social sciences at the U.S. Military Academy.

Education and early career

His first assignment was training recruits at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas. Subsequently he went through flight training at Randolph Air Force Base, Texas, and Williams Air Force Base, Ariz., receiving his pilot wings in September 1949. He then served as a pilot with the 20th Fighter-Bomber Group at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C.

After one year at Washington and Lee University Va., he entered the United States Military Academy at West Point, N.Y. He graduated in 1948, among the first academy graduates commissioned directly into the newly established Air Force. The general received a master of public administration degree in 1954 and a doctorate in political economy and government in 1961, both from Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass. He completed Air Command and Staff College, Maxwell Air Force Base, Ala., in 1959 and National War College, Fort Lesley J. McNair, Washington, D.C., in 1965.


His military decorations and awards include the Defense Distinguished Service Medal, Distinguished Service Medal (Air Force) with oak leaf cluster, Silver Star, Legion of Merit, Air Medal with three oak leaf clusters, Joint Service Commendation Medal and Purple Heart.


  1. Gribkov, Gen Anatoli I., and Gen William Y. Smith. Operation ANADYR: U.S. and Soviet Generals Recount the Cuban Missile Crisis. Chicago: Edition Q, 1994
  2. American Military Power: Future Needs, Future Choices-Background Paper, U.S. Congress, Office of Technology Assessment, October 1991, OTA-BP-ISC-80
  3. General William Y. Smith, U.S. Air Force
  4. 4.0 4.1 William Smith, Episode 10, Cuba, The Cold War, George Washington University National Security Archive