On May 21st, 1944, my grandfather was flying a P-51 Mustang on a strafing run over Germany when his plane was hit by ground fire. A bullet in the radiator caused him to crash land. Captured shortly thereafter, he was sent to Stalag Luft III, the POW camp where he was held for the remainder of the war. He was lucky – he suffered a cut above his eye from hitting the gunsight in the crash and lost sixty pounds as a prisoner.
Back then, there was no US Air Force. It was called the Army Air Corps instead, and my grandfather’s fighting group (the 352d) earned the nickname “Blue Nosed Bastards of Bodney” while stationed in England. They painted all of their planes with a blue nose. If you went to the National Air and Space Museum in the 1990s, you might have seen one of the blue-nosed P-51s. My grandfather flew all of them at some point in time, but the plane he flew the most was nicknamed Panama Pacito for his Panama assignment prior to World War II.
Pop Pop, as I called him when I was young, was thirty-three when he spent eight months in a Nazi camp. Here I am, in middle-class America, in a cozy dorm room with my own bathroom. He lived off of bread and water, while I get food from the kitchen rated #1 in real food among college campuses. I’m the same age he was, but we’re worlds apart, and I cannot even fathom the life he lived. He gave up a college degree to do what he knew to be right.
Lt. Col. Eugene Louis Clark passed on when I was a kid, but Veterans’ Day every year reminds me of the sacrifices he made for this country and for his family. I can’t think of a better man to hold as a role model. I sincerely thank all of the veterans the world over who fight for what they know to be right. Your selflessness is an inspiration to us all.