On 4 April 1971, two 612th Tactical Fighter Squadron F-100 Super Sabres took off from the Republic of Vietnam’s Phan Rang Air Base just before 3:30 p.m. to hit a large warehouse deep in central Cambodia. Behind the controls of the lead plane — codenamed BLADE 05 — was 1st Lt. Joseph S. Smith, a 25-year-old Notre Dame graduate from Assumption, Ill. who had started his tour in August 1970.
After four successful passes over their target, Smith was lining up for a strafing run when his aircraft suddenly leveled off before reaching the warehouse. Smith’s F-100 started trailing white smoke. His wingman and the forward air controller watched as the jet descended slowly and rolled over before impacting the ground half a mile away. He did not eject. There was no emergency beacon. Visibility at the crash site was obscured by smoke so there was no way the pilots could know what happened. But there was no parachute and no emergency beacon. With little to no chance of survival, they would have to wait.
The military determined that Lt. Smith had been hit by unseen enemy ground fire and died instantly. Aircrews observed heavy enemy activity in the area the next day when they returned to investigate the crash site — too heavy to send in ground units to recover the body.
In 1996 a joint U.S.-Cambodian team located the site and determined that they had found Smith’s plane and recovered remains which were positively identified in 2017. Capt. Smith has been brought home and is now interred in Saint Mary’s Cemetery in Assumption, Ill.