Appropriate for an American aviation pioneer, Maurice R. Smith was born on the 4th of July, 1894. He attended Yale where he majored in economics, played football and baseball, and excelled in wrestling. He also found time to join ROTC as a member of the "Yale Battery." Immediately following graduation in 1917, Smith headed a group of Yale seniors who volunteered for the Aviation Section of the US Army Signal Corps. In June 1917, he became the first aviation cadet in the lighter-than-air section, and upon completion of training, earned Spherical Balloon Pilot license No. 98 from the Aero Club of America. After commissioning, he helped develop a parachute and harness system for American observation balloon crews and became the first American to parachute from a balloon during testing of this escape system.
As part of the United States initial commitment in World War I, Smith arrived in France in February 1918 and commanded the 5th Balloon Company, one of the first US aviation units at the front. Smith's Company received recognition for their performance in combat, including the Allied offensive during the St. Mihiel and Meuse-Argonne campaigns. Returning home in 1919, he left active duty and was commissioned as a major in the reserves. A born entrepreneur, he began a business career as secretary and treasurer of a large midwestern medical equipment supply company. He also owned a pro football team in the National Football League, the Kansas City Cowboys, from 1923 until 1925. In 1924, he became the "commanding general" of the Modern Woodmen of America Foresters, a fraternal organization with a membership of over one million men, including uniformed drill teams.
Between 1924 and 1939, through the Foresters, he gave military training to over 250,000 midwestern youths, perhaps the outstanding contribution to US military preparedness during those years. Despite a demanding business schedule, Smith still found time to participate in the 1924 and 1927 national balloon races. Still a member of the Reserves, he was recalled to active duty in May 1942, and worked in a variety of Army Air Forces Training Command jobs. In June 1943, he was assigned to Air Training Command to help recruit aviation cadets and members for the Women's Air Corps. Smith held key Army Air Forces Training Command assignments until 1946, when he returned to civilian life. Colonel Smith continued to serve in the Reserves until his retirement on 31 July 1954, when he served in a mobilization augmentee position as Chief of Staff and Vice Commander, Headquarters Air Training Command.
On 14 September 1918, Captain Maurice R. Smith went aloft to regulate artillery fire on the vital Moselle river bridge near Metz, France. Operating at extreme height without regard for enemy fighters, Captain Smith adjusted artillery fire until his balloon, no. 169, was set ablaze by a German aircraft. Parachuting to safety, Captain Smith immediately had new equipment rigged and went aloft again to complete his mission. For his gallantry, he was awarded the Silver Star.