Photos by Callie Richmond
The Clendenins come from military families and are grateful their gift will honor the sacrifices of their fathers and other veterans at the Briscoe Center, one of the nation’s leading research centers for historical inquiry and home of an extensive military history collection.
“After World War II, veterans returned home dramatically changed,” says Ed. “My father flew and survived 40 missions and came back home to raise his family. When I was a young man, I knew only four things about his service: he was in the Army Air Corps, he was a pilot, he flew B-24s out of Italy, and the thing he was most proud of was the fact that he never lost a crewman in combat.”
One day near the end of his father’s life, something happened that opened a new world to Ed. He and his father visited the Air Force Museum in Dayton, Ohio, and came face-to-face with the actual B-24 plane his father flew during the war. His father had Alzheimer’s disease but recognized it immediately. He belonged to the 376th HBG, the first heavy bombardment group to operate in the Middle East theater during WWII, focusing on Axis supply lines. The group flew 451 missions, was awarded three Distinguished Unit Citations and earned 15 campaign awards.
Ed catalogued every mission of his dad’s bomb group and published a book, “376th Bomb Group Mission History.” He connected with the 376th Bombardment Group Veterans’ Association. The veterans met annually, and in the late ’80s, leadership was passed down to the vets’ next generation of family. Ed served as historian for more than 20 years, collecting diaries, uniforms, photographs, medals and research materials with 376th HBG veterans.
“I found out more about my father’s war experience after his death,” says Ed. “When I talked with other veterans and their families, I was finally able to fill in the blanks. I conducted oral interviews with veterans and after every interview, families would say ‘we never heard any of those stories.’ The veterans were finally opening up about things that they had kept to themselves for decades.”
“Their gatherings were successful because it was a part of their history and their lives that only they could understand,” adds Pat. “Our life is good because of what they did and the sacrifices they made.”
WWII vets are now in their 90s and older, and the 376th Bombardment Group Veterans’ Association has disbanded. At Ed’s suggestion, the group donated its extensive archives, assembled by the group’s members, to create the 376th Heavy Bombardment Group Papers at the Briscoe Center. Its remaining funds established an endowment to help pay for a stipend for an archival student assisting with projects in the center’s military history collections. The Clendenins’ gift honors Ed’s parents and builds upon the 376th HBG endowment to fully fund the student internship position in perpetuity.
The project is bittersweet for Ed.
“My father’s generation was labeled the greatest generation, but they were so modest about it. They survived the Great Depression and then won the war. We believe it is important for future generations to learn about the atrocities of war and what veterans and their families suffered during that time. My only regret is that, knowing what I know now, I have so many questions to ask my father but will never get the chance.”
Gillian Morton, MSIS ’21, was the inaugural 376th Heavy Bombardment Group Intern in Archival Enterprises and the Leatrice and Edward Clendenin Graduate Intern in Military History. Gillian developed a project to expand the online search functionality for a selection of material on microfilm that allows researchers to skip to the exact reel and frame they need.
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