John Lucian Smith was born on December 26, 1914 in Lexington, Oklahoma. He attended the University of Oklahoma class of 1936 and was a member of the Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC). In May 1936, he appointed a second lieutenant in the U. S. Army Field Artillery, but resigned to to accept a commission in the United States Marine Corps (USMC) a second lieutenant in July 1936.
Smith was stationed at Marine Barracks, Navy Yard in Philadelphia, PA and attended Marine Basic School. Afterwards, assigned to Quantico, VA, Washington, D.C., and Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, SC. In July 1938 he was sent to NAS Pensacola to begin flight training and graduated as a Naval Aviator.
During the Battle of Guadalcanal, Smith was Commanding Officer (C. O.) of Marine Fighter Squadron 223 (VMF-223) operating from Fighter 1 on Guadalcanal.
On October 2, 1942 took off piloting F4F-4 Wildcat 03502 from Fighter 1 on Guadalcanal leading his squadron on a mission to intercept incoming Japanese Zeros. Climbing to 25,000' then attacked Zeros but his aircraft was damaged. While circling to land, his engine died and he successfully landed to the east of Henderson Field and walked back to American lines.