(Oct. 5, 1895-Aug. 9, 1961). A native of Indianapolis, Walter Bedell (Beetle) Smith was one of the most distinguished military figures the city has produced. He attended Public School 10 and Manual High School and joined the Indiana National Guard in 1910. Following American entry into World War I, Smith attended the officers’ training camp at Fort Benjamin Harrison in 1917 and served as a lieutenant in France.

General Walter Bedell (Beetle) Smith during a celebration in his honor, June 6, 1945
Credit: Indiana Historical Society

Upon his return from Europe, Smith chose to remain in the service and pursued military studies at the army’s Infantry School, the Command and General Staff College, and the Army War College, ascending to the rank of captain. He was assigned to the War Department General Staff in October 1939, where his dedication and indefatigable work ethic attracted the attention of his superiors during World War II.

By February 1942, he held the rank of brigadier general. Chosen as the U.S. secretary of the Combined Chiefs of Staff, Smith was General Dwight D. Eisenhower’s chief of staff in the North African and European campaigns. For his work for the Combined Chiefs of Staff, he was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal and subsequently received a Bronze Oak Leaf Cluster for his service in Tunisia. He became a  general in 1951.

During the years 1946-1949, Smith served as ambassador to the Soviet Union. He was in Moscow during the Berlin blockade and the beginning of the Cold War, and his firm demeanor reflected the hardening U.S. policy toward the Kremlin. He believed in American military strength to preempt and contain Soviet aggression and Communist expansion.

Smith was the director of the Central Intelligence Agency from 1950 to 1953, and he urged that the agency be freed from the divisiveness of domestic politics. He was subsequently undersecretary of state (1953-1957). Appointed by Eisenhower, Smith was an understudy of John Foster Dulles, U.S. secretary of state. Smith strove to guide the State Department through the complexities of evolving Cold War foreign policy and to cushion its impact on America’s allies, particularly in Europe. He also grappled with Communist expansion in Southeast Asia in the 1950s.

Smith authored three works: Europe As A Bulwark Of Peace (Washington, 1949), My Three Years In Moscow (Philadelphia, 1949), and Eisenhower’S Six Great Decisions: Europe, 1944-45 (New York, 1956).

Smith died of a heart attack at his home in Washington, D.C. His papers are in the Eisenhower Presidential Center in Abilene, Kansas.

Revised March 2021

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