In memoriam: Easley Smith, emeritus biological systems engineering associate professor and WWII veteran
Easley Stone Smith, associate professor emeritus of agricultural engineering (now known as biological systems engineering) at Virginia Tech and World War II veteran, died on Feb. 2, 2021. He was 96.
Easley was born May 16, 1924, in Nottoway County, Virginia, to Clack Stone and Pearl Easley Smith. He was raised on the family farm and graduated from Crewe High School. Easley enrolled at Virginia Tech and the Corps of Cadets in 1941 and attended for four quarters prior to enlisting in the U.S. Army Air Corps during World War II. He completed a rigorous training program earning a commission as a 2nd lieutenant and his wings as a B-24 Liberator pilot at age 19. He commanded a 10-man crew in the 723rd bomber squadron, 450th bomb group of the 15th Air Force on a combat tour based in southern Italy flying daylight bombing missions in support of the Allied war effort.
Daylight bombing was exceedingly dangerous work – during the war more than 30,000 airmen were killed in combat, over 14,000 wounded, and another 33,000 were shot down and captured. Despite witnessing much death and destruction, he was always thankful that none of his crew members were ever injured. He completed a tour of 25 missions as a 1st lieutenant and flight commander and volunteered to return to the United States for retraining in B-29s and eventual reassignment to the Pacific theater. He landed back in the United States on his 21st birthday in May of 1945. By that time the war in the Pacific was winding down, his retraining was cancelled, and he did not fly in combat again. He completed his enlistment duty stateside in time to be back at Virginia Tech for the winter quarter in 1946.
Easley graduated from Virginia Tech in 1948 and began his career as a sales representative for a farm machinery manufacturer. He met Helen Mitchell on a blind date in Richmond and married her in Lynchburg in June of 1951. His career eventually brought him back to Blacksburg and the Extension service of Virginia Tech. He joined the faculty of the Department of Agricultural Engineering (now the Department of Biological Systems Engineering) in 1956 and earned an M.S. in agricultural engineering in 1960. His specialty was farm machinery, and he was instrumental in the development of no-till farming. He always enjoyed working with farmers and students and for years was involved with state and regional 4-H programs. He served as an associate professor until his retirement in 1984.
After retirement Easley read the newspaper thoroughly every day, maintained a prodigious garden, and continued to volunteer in the community. At various times he served as a PTA president, community volunteer on local planning boards, on professional societies, the Lions Club, and on the Session and numerous committees of the Blacksburg Presbyterian Church. He enjoyed travel when he could persuade Helen to go, including trips to Europe and Australia. He particularly enjoyed a 1996 trip back to Manduria, Italy, to visit the country where he spent one winter 51 years prior serving his country.
Easley loved his wife and family, his home and church, his country and of course his Hokies. He always aimed to set a good example and he exemplified being a patriot and an active citizen. He is survived by his three sons Blair Smith (Debbie) of Jacksonville, Florida; Steve Smith (Jane) of Raleigh, North Carolina; and Doug Smith of Charlotte, North Carolina; along with eight grandchildren, 10 nieces and nephews, and a whole town of admirers.
Anyone considering a contribution to memorialize Easley should consider either the Blacksburg Presbyterian Church or the Warm Hearth Foundation.