It's a shame Jackson Temple Clary wasn't still alive this fall and up to making one more flight to Holland.
The longtime operator of Santa Rosa gas stations and descendant of Sonoma County pioneers would have been treated as the guest of greatest honor, a returning hero, at a tearful and grateful ceremony two weeks ago in pastoral Boekelo, near the border with Germany.
Jack Clary, a 1937 graduate of Calistoga High, passed away in Santa Rosa in 1995. So a daughter of 65 and a 44-year-old granddaughter from one of his other daughters stood in for him at the dedication of a memorial that pays tribute to the day 70 years earlier that he parachuted into Boekelo after his four-engine Allied bomber was riddled by a German fighter-bomber.
"We felt like queens, I tell you," said daughter Brenda Clary Bailey, who lives in Santa Rosa and works as a wine-industry alcohol compliance specialist.
She and her niece, El? V. McAllister, a Broadway play producer, went to the WWII commemoration in the Netherlands at the invitation of four young Dutch men who'd organized the ceremony. The men had spent the better part of a year researching the downing of the bomber crewed by pilot Clary, then a 2nd lieutenant in the U.S. Army Air Corps, and six others — an American, an Englishman and four Canadians.
Windsor writer and poet Marie Clary, who is 64 and Bailey's sister and McAllister's mother, said she would have gone to Boekelo, too, for the tribute had she fully realized what a significant occasion it was.
And work duties prevented Marie Clary's twin sister, Janet Clary of Santa Rosa, a school-bus driver, from making the event in Boekelo.
The ceremony's four primary instigators expected maybe 50 people to share in the unveiling of an engraved plaque and bench. But a thankful crowd of about 300 showed up to honor the Allied airmen shot down while attacking Hitler's Germany, and news accounts of the celebration played across Holland.
None of the aviators aboard the downed bomber is still alive. Speakers at the event thanked Clary's family and survivors of the other crewmembers for the airmen's valor and sacrifices in the war against the Nazis, who occupied their country in mid-1940.
In return, Clary's kin profusely thanked the Dutch.
Of the downed bomber's seven crewmen, two were killed and four were captured and imprisoned by German troops. Only Clary was the beneficiary of locals who risked their lives to hide, feed and clothe him, and to help him escape to Belgium where he joined an underground network — the Comet Line — that ushered him safely back to Britain.
"We thank you!" a tearful McAllister told the crowd gathered in a field near where her grandfather touched ground.
"We thank you from the bottom of our hearts, because we might not be here today if not for all of you."
McAllisters' granddad, whose Sonoma County pioneer ancestors included Jackson Temple, one of the county's first attorneys in the 1850s and subsequently both a state Supreme Court justice and a Superior Court judge, grew up yearning to fly.
The U.S. hadn't yet joined World War II when Jack Clary enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force and realized his dream to become a pilot. He flew many bombing missions over Germany and early in 1943 transferred to the U.S. Army Air Corps but continued to fly with a Canadian squadron.