Roosevelt’s pilot speaks on World War II

After flying President Franklin Roosevelt to the Yalta Conference in 1945, former pilot Elmer Smith spoke on his experiences during a presentation hosted by the Social Studies Honor Society on Jan. 9.

At the event, the former colonel of the US military reminisced about his journeys around the world with important dignitaries, such as former secretary of state George Marshall.

Smith recalled experiences such as the time the plane “lost an engine with President Truman on board.”

Smith noted the differences between him and today’s pilots.

He also said that while he and his crew of five to seven men flew around different kinds of dignitaries, such as Soong May-Ling and Jawarhalal Nehru, today’s pilots only have one type of passenger.

Smith added said that his flying led him to know “some great people,” but also reminded him that the people in the plane were “scared to death [as] they’ve heard lots of stories.”

He added that he hoped that attendees were able to get “a better understanding of the people that we flew and the reason we were flying them.”

As a result, attendees said that the experience added to their knowledge of history.

Senior Prakash Bhatt said that Smith “added on to things we learned in history and just the things he said about his flight experiences were really interesting.”

SSHS co-sponsor Kathryn Peyton added that she hoped students got a “real flavor” for the relationship between a president and a military officer and how different a military career was during Smith’s time as compared with the present day.

The experience provided attendees the opportunity to learn about history in a different way.

Senior Gina Repole said that the presentation was “an interesting approach to history that we don’t normally study in a classroom setting.”

Junior Danny Glass added that it was “pretty amazing [that he] was able to tell us how he flew some of the most influential people of World War II around the world.”

Peyton added that it was interesting to see the contrast between the relationships between Smith and the presidents.

While Truman had a good sense of humor, Smith only flew Roosevelt once and Roosevelt left abruptly to attend the Yalta Conference.

Peyton said the time devoted to the 20th century in both History of the Americas and Topics of the 20th Century courses made her think Smith’s experiences would be “an interesting topic for IB students to hear about and as it turned out, [she] was right.”