DeWitt C. Smith Jr., 84, former deputy chief of staff of the Army and two-time commandant of the Army War College who was known as a "defense intellectual" and student of the military's role in a democracy, died after a stroke July 21 at Lawrence & Memorial Hospital in New London, Conn. He lived in Niantic, Conn.
Gen. Smith was the longest serving commandant at the Army War College in Carlisle, Pa.: from 1974 until 1977 and from 1978 to 1980.
He was one of 49 generals and admirals who signed a public letter to President Bush in March 2004 urging him to postpone operational deployment of a ground-based strategic mid-course ballistic missile defense system. He signed petitions against the use of land mines and publicly raised concerns about the conduct of the war in Iraq.
He was also a soldier's soldier, with combat experience in World War II, Korea and Vietnam. He came under fire in the Dominican Republic while on the staff of the secretary of defense in the mid-1960s.
While personnel chief of the Army, he was quoted in the media on the need for strategists, not just tacticians, in the upper ranks of the military. He felt strongly that military leaders needed to learn how to act as informed servants of a civilian-run democracy.
"Diverse and complex as it is, national security in a free society involves us all," he said in a widely reprinted 1987 speech at a George C. Marshall ROTC Award Seminar. "It is the child of many parents; it is everyone's business. It is not too 'secret' for Congress, not too arcane for everyday citizens, or the sole business of the security elite. It is the concern for all the American people."
Gen. Smith, born in Baltimore and raised in Bethesda, graduated from Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School. He attended Oberlin College in Ohio but, alarmed by Adolf Hitler's rise in Europe, dropped out to join the Canadian army before the United States entered World War II. He enlisted under an assumed name to escape family disapproval, one of Gen. Smith's sons said, but his father discovered what he had done and had him discharged.
In 1942, he joined the U.S. Army as a private and, after basic training, was sent to noncommissioned officers school, then Officer Candidate School. He fought in the European theater and was awarded the Silver Star, two Bronze Stars and three Purple Hearts.
Discharged in 1946, he finished his college degree at the University of Maryland. He did not intend to pursue a military career, although he joined the reserves. He worked briefly as a wire-service reporter in Washington and then for a charitable organization in New York City.
He returned to active duty for the Korean War and stayed in the military after it ended. He was an aide to Chief of Staff Gen. Maxwell D. Taylor, served in the "Old Guard" at Fort Myer and was a battalion executive officer and commander in Germany.
He then served in staff positions at the Pentagon before going to the Army War College. He was sent to Vietnam in a command position with the 1st Infantry Division, returned to Germany and then to Fort Carson, Colo. In 1970, under his leadership, Fort Carson was made an initial test site for the modern volunteer Army concept. Gen. Smith was credited with the success of a number of innovations adopted by the Army, including the establishment of a Racial Harmony Council, formed because of several racial incidents at or near the base.
After his stints at the War College, he retired in 1980. He wore two Distinguished Service Medals and four awards of the Legion of Merit on the nine rows of ribbons on his uniform.
Gen. Smith was director of the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency for three years after his military retirement. He was on the board of directors of Harsco Corp. in Harrisburg, Pa., and the George C. Marshall Foundation in Lexington, Va. He also worked briefly for the American Red Cross.
He was a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, the International Institute for Strategic Studies and the Infantry OCS Hall of Fame. In 1977, he was the Army's Kermit Roosevelt lecturer in England.
Survivors include his wife of 62 years, Margaret Bond Smith of Niantic; six children, DeWitt C. Smith III of High Springs, Fla., Shelley Smith Flanagan of Gainesville, Fla., Kevin M. Smith Sr. of Upper Allen, Pa., Betsy Smith Brousseau of Whitby, Ontario, and Dana Smith Jain and Barbara Smith Hart, both of Alamo, Calif.; 13 grandchildren; and one great-granddaughter.