It took a bit of encouragement for a retired Columbus city planner now under Hospice care to commit to taking the Indy Honor Flight trip to Washington, D.C.

But as a result, C. Dean Smith is no longer counting the days. Instead, the Korean War-era Air Force veteran now prefers to make the days count.

When retired two-star general Mark Pillar of Columbus first suggested that Smith apply to be on the April 1 fight, he initially resisted, said Shelli Burton, We Honor Veterans program coordinator at Our Hospice of South Central Indiana.

A significant reason was that the 85-year-old Smith’s health has kept him inside his home on North National Road across from North Christian Church, said his son, Greg Smith.

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“I was astonished Dean agreed to do it,” said Suzanne Smith, the military veteran’s wife.

In addition, Dean Smith initially didn’t feel he was worthy of the honor, Burton said.

Several of Smith’s high school friends in the U.S. military were sent to fight during the Korean War and were killed, Dean Smith said.

That experience often instills what veteran groups call Survivor’s Syndrome, while causes anguish to a person who survived a traumatic event when others did not, Burton said.

“There has been a big ‘Why me?’ in Dad’s mind,” Greg Smith said. “He didn’t feel he was a veteran.”

It was only after Burton and Pillar addressed all his concerns that the veteran of the Cold War agreed to go, Burton said.

Greg Smith said he jumped at the opportunity to fly to Indiana from his home in Hermosa Beach, California, to serve as his father’s guardian on the Honor Flight Trip, which brings veterans to Washington to visit the war memorials and be honored.

That experience included cheering crowds, police escorts and landmark tours, and Dean Smith “was smiling from ear to ear every time I looked at him,” said Burton, who also went on the trip.

The only time Smith’s smile disappeared was when he approached the Korean War Memorial for the first time. After seeing the 19 stainless steel statues that depict a platoon on patrol, his emotions came out.

“That was a four-hanky experience,” Dean Smith said. “They even got the facial expressions right. It was pretty grim.”

But happier surprises were ahead, including receiving about 50 letters of support on the flight home and an unexpected ‘Welcome Home’ celebration at Plainfield High School west of Indianapolis.

The positive impact the Indy Honor Flight had on Smith’s morale has “lit a little fire under him,” Burton said.

In fact, Dean Smith was still opening up letters he received during his in-flight “mail call” just a few weeks ago, his son said.

With a new sense of purpose and acceptance, Smith says he wants to complete some home renovations, become more involved with his church, and attend graduations parties for his granddaughter next month, he said.

“You have to reach some peace of mind before your final departure,” he said.

Military assignment

Stationed in an underground bunker within the Chiltern Hills, about 30 miles west of London, the Air Force airman’s military assignment was to update weather conditions every six hours for the entire northern hemisphere.That information was provided to the nearby Eastern Atlantic NATO military command structure near Eastbury, Hertfordshire, England.

Smith recalls two times when things got scary after NATO was placed on full alert in the fall of 1956.

The Hungarian Uprising against Soviet-imposed policies from Oct. 23 through Nov. 10.

The early November landing of British and French troops in the Suez Canal after Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser attempted to nationalize it.

Although both incidents created international tension, Smith said his normal routine was working eight-hour days until he was discharged in 1957.

After completing his bachelor’s degree in political science and public administration from Indiana University, Dean Smith was hired by Oxford Development Corp.

While working in Indianapolis, Smith found himself embracing new ideas about land use from the Urban Land Institute, which facilitates an open exchange of ideas to create better places.

Another assignment

In 1966, a young recruitment professional named Robert Garton — a Columbus man who would later become Indiana Senate president pro tem — arranged for Smith to meet with then-Columbus Mayor Eret “Bud” Cline.As a result, Smith became the city’s second professional planning director just three years after the job was created.

Cline appointed Smith to a committee that was in negotiations regarding the soon-to-be-abandoned Bakalar Air Force Base on the north side of Columbus.

After two trips to Washington, D.C., to talk with government, aviation and military administrators, Smith’s committee received confirmation in March 1970 that the federal government was selling the 2,000-acre airbase to the city — for $1. Today, it serves as Columbus Municipal Airport.

As planner, Smith rewrote the city’s master plan to incorporate new ideas for Columbus’ future — a costly and time-consuming effort that was ultimately discarded by the Columbus City Council, he said.

Despite having Cline’s support, a revised zoning ordinance also ran into resistance from a number of council members.

“The old guard was still firmly entrenched,” Smith said. “They didn’t like anything new or enforced, and they were quick to tell you.”

It was only after Smith resigned his five-year position in September 1971 that the mayor cast a rare tie-breaking council vote to approve Smith’s zoning revisions.

More vindication came three years later when Cline’s successor, Max Andress, appointed Smith to the Columbus Board of Zoning Appeals in 1974.

Meanwhile, Smith went back to work for Oxford Development and served a total of 25 years before his 1994 retirement, Smith said.

He also contracted out his services for nearby communities such as Seymour that couldn’t afford to hire their own planner at the time, he said.

Greg Smith expressed great pride in his father’s achievements.

“It’s pretty remarkable,” he said. “If you look at his body of work, he has played a significant part in developing Columbus.”

About the Indy Honor Flight

The Indy Honor Flight launched in the summer of 2009 when Grant Thompson of Mooresville arranged a flight for his wife’s great-uncle, a World War II veteran, to see the newly constructed World War II Memorial. Thompson and his wife, Tammy, immediately began searching for other World War II veterans to provide them with the same experience.

Besides paying for the veterans’ expenses, the Indy Honor Flight organization ensures that participants are accompanied by a guardian who can assist with their needs during the trip. A physician and two nurses will accompany the veterans on the next flight, which is this weekend.

Information: Call 317-559-1600, or going online at

On the Web

Learn about the We Honor Veterans program at Out Hospice of South Central Indiana by visiting its website at

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Mark Webber is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at or 812-379-5636.