Admiral Smith spent part of his youth on a farm in Alabama. While a freshman at the University of Alabama, he decided to apply for the U.S. Naval Academy. He learned he had received an appointment from his uncle, then-Vice Admiral Harold Page Smith. On 29 September 2004, in the first of ten oral history interviews with Paul Stillwell, Admiral Smith described a lesson in motivation and leadership he received when he was a plebe at the Academy in 1958.
My uncle followed me very closely the first two years, because he was the Chief of Naval Personnel. He introduced then-Captain William “Bush” Bringle, who was the Commandant of Midshipmen. He also introduced his good friend, Vice Admiral Charles Melson, the Superintendent.