Melvin Douglas Smith, the firstborn child of Carl and Agnes Smith, was raised in Alamance, North Carolina, a small village near Burlington. Doug, along with his three sisters and one brother, always loved the beauty of water and he grew up swimming and fishing. After leaving E. M. Holt High School at eighteen, he followed that love of water to the Navy and enlisted in April 1956.
When he finished boot camp, Doug entered Navy communications school and then returned home on leave to marry Judy Lyon, whom he had dated since she was 16. The couple moved to Puerto Rico in 1959, where they had their first two sons, Douglas and Mark – both born at Rodriguez Army Hospital.
The family later moved to Pensacola, Florida, where Doug served as an instructor at the Naval Communications Training Center Corry Station. He achieved the rank of chief petty officer after eight years.
According to Judy, Doug had always been a reader, and now he devoured “book after book after book on golf.” He was soon shooting regularly in the 80’s.
In May of 1966 Doug received an assignment to sea duty and boarded the USS LIBERTY on May 31, 1966. The family had moved back to North Carolina and there another son, Tim, was born. After the LIBERTY docked on February 28, 1967 and Doug rushed home to see his youngest son for the first time.
Doug’s death on the LIBERTY continues to shiver through the lives of those who loved him. His oldest son, Douglas, wrote a poem for his father, “Epitaph at Sea with Constellation Above.” In the poem, his father disappears, line by line, from the world:
Mariner, descend, and the sea conceal
bird and sky and the drowned father below,
who shall not sing, who shall not rise, but dwells
among the abandoned gods, a body
unfolding dark, restless and fathoms deep.
In October 1967, the enlisted barracks at Corry Station (building 1082) was dedicated Smith Hall in his memory.