Highland Lakes Squadron success due to Smith

By Savanna Gregg

Staff Writer

Burnet Bulletin

The Highland Lakes Squadron of the Commemorative Air Force accredits its success in memorializing those individuals and Warbirds of World War II history to its founder, Col Harold Smith.

Smith founded the Squadron in 1991 and was chosen as its first leader, serving among his colleagues until 1993. After that term and for almost thirty years since the Squadron's chartering by the Commemorative Air Force, Smith has made an impact on the Squadron and Museum, helping out in daily hangar routines and at the many airshows put on by the Squadron.

Smith is also notably responsible for the procurement of the Warbirds on display outside the Burnet Airport Museum, forever paying tribute to the airmen who flew them during World War II.

Smith has especially made a difference in the lives of his fellow Squadron members, who call him a friend and mentor.

“For several years I stationed the Confederate Air Force Curtis P-40 Warhawk at the CAF hangar in Burnet,” said colleague Ollie Crawford. “The P-40 was always in need of some kind of maintenance which included minor engine repairs or polishing that beautiful iron bird.

“The one person I could always count on to help was Howard,” Crawford said. “Really, he was an expert in about everything connected with flying and his responsibility as a Wing Leader with the CAF.

“Harold was badly missed when other responsibilities kept him away from the hangar,” Crawford added. “I don't usually use the term 'irreplaceable,' but Harold is. We need hundreds of thousands of great Americans just like him.”

Smith's love for aviation sparked a mentorship with many individuals. Doug Peoples, who has known Smith since the 1970s, was a young college kid who had just received his Commercial Multi-Engine Instrument Ticket and was working for Hood Airlines and Rio Airways in Killeen.

“Harold at that time was flying for the Telephone Company and on a few occasions he invited me to fly co-pilot in a Westwind Turban Beech 18,” Peoples said. “After a few of those trips, he asked me to come fly co-pilot with him in a DC-3 owned by the Phone Company and the owners of Rio Airways on a few flights.

“I can blame him for my interest in the old airplanes and warbirds,” Peoples added. “By the end of that year I was hired by Rio Airways as a co-pilot on Beech 99's and an old Piston-powered Be-18D.”

Peoples flew for many different companies later on, and eventually began flying with Tora in the Commemorative Air Force; he frequently ran into Smith at airshows during that time.

“Later, I got picked up by the Lone Star Flight Museum where I flew PIC in Stearmans, T-6, SBD, Be-18H, AT-11, C-47, B-25, and B-17,” Peoples said. “My whole experience started with Harold's invite to fly a few trips in the old Be-18H and the old DC-3. Thank you, Harold, for being a mentor to many."

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