As family and friends paid their final respects to Paul Steele Smith during a memorial service today at St. Ann Catholic Church in Bourg, two U.S. Coast Guard MH-65 Dolphin helicopters flew over the church cemetery and disappeared into the horizon.
It was a fitting tribute to the late 98-year-old retired Coast Guard commander who many believed was larger than life.
“My dad’s parents knew what they were doing when they gave him the middle name of Steele,” Smith’s son, Michael, said minutes before the urn containing his father’s ashes was placed in its final resting place. “Unlike the Man of Steel, he wasn’t able to leap tall buildings, but he came pretty close.”
Paul Smith, one of the country’s first helicopter pilots, died May 9, just three months after losing his wife of 73 years. In addition to family and friends, officers representing the U.S. Coast Guard Eighth District and the United Veterans League attended the service to pay their respects and appreciation to the late aviation pioneer who was laid to rest on what would have been his 99th birthday.
“I didn’t expect my dad to live forever, but I certainly wasn’t prepared for him to leave so soon after my mom passed away,” Michael Smith said. “I thought he would easily live to be 100, but when his copilot of 73 years died, it was too much to ask.”
Paul Smith was the last surviving member of the first class of helicopter pilots in the world, studying under its inventor, legendary aviator Igor Sikorsky in 1942. According to U.S. Coast Guard Capt. Bryan Daily, Paul Smith held license No.18.
During the World War II, the late amphibious aircraft pilot was stationed in Houma, where his squadron of Grumman Widgeons successfully hunted German U Boats in the Gulf of Mexico. It was in Louisiana that Paul Smith met and married Anne Marie Hebert.
Over the course of his 25-year service in air and sea rescue, the Smiths were stationed in New York,…