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Memories of Service

Updated: Nov 15, 2018


Cliff Conklin, born in 1921, had plans to attend college with his current wife Harriet, also known by her school nickname “Cubs.” However, war was looming and Conklin knew college wouldn’t be where he would spend the following years of his life. Instead, he spent it in Germany, England, and all over the world as a pilot.

NCH photo/Hayley Griffin

When college was no longer an option because of the war, Conklin turned to the military. He knew he didn’t want to be stuck on a boat staring at the sea, so the Navy wasn’t for him. He also wasn’t fond of the idea of sleeping in trenches, so he passed on the Army. At the time, several movies had just been released that featured planes and the roles of a pilot. Conklin decided to spend the next 22 years in service as a pilot in the Air Force, eventually achieving the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. He got his aviator’s license and headed for the clouds.

In all, Conklin completed 25 missions.

“At the time, there were many who received the award given for completing 25 missions. But now, most of them are gone. Now there’s not many of them.” His achievements were large, especially the completion of his last mission to Berlin in 1943. After he and his crew took off on a B-17, they received a signal that the mission had been recalled, and they were able to head home.

Jokingly, Conklin mentioned that they could drop the rest of their bombs off before heading all the way back, because the area was clear. Another crew member and his co-pilot decided to proceed with dropping the bombs, but also decided to leave the formation in order to do so.

NCH photo/Hayley Griffin

Conklin told them the idea was bad, but they continued. At one point, Conklin thought he saw ice crystals. He later explained that “they were too low in the atmosphere to be seeing ice crystals, and even if they were ice crystals, they’d be going in the opposite direction.”

He knew at that moment they were under attack. Conklin took control of the plane and got his crew and him back into a safe position. They had reached home, but when they tried to land they realized the brakes weren’t functioning.

The plane had been shot in several places, and damaged the brakes. Even with the damage done, they were all able to make it home safely.

Conklin said that the secret to having such successful missions was having a reliable and trustworthy crew. They would spend time together on and off the job. While stationed in London, during their free time they would go out to eat, and sometimes they would go to the circus.

All of them stayed close, even after they served in the Air Force, except for the tail gunner.

Conklin said that “during the Berlin mission, the tail gunner should have known they were about to be attacked. But, our tail gunner was asleep and slept through the whole thing. So, none of us know what kind of plane actually attacked us, and why they decided to stop and let us go.”

Other than that, Conklin said he loved his crew and made close friends.

After his last mission, Casey spent six years in Washington D.C. on base with his family, Harriet, his three sons, and one daughter. When they told Casey he would have to move to a new Air Force base, he asked if he could go to the Philippines, which he later called the “Rest and Recoup place.”

Not expecting to be told yes, he was surprised when he got the call to pack up and move to the Philippines. He was able to spend more than three years there with his family. After that, Conklin moved back to the states. By this time, he needed to get his aviator license renewed. Instead of doing that, he found his new passion for golf. He eventually got a job with the Professional Golfers’ Association and became a pro golfer. Conklin now resides in Belton, with his wife Harriet, who is also 97.

His son is Belton High School teacher and coach Casey Conklin.

By Hayley Griffin

NCH Intern


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