LTC CLYDE BENNETT EAST, USAF, RET. Fly High, Soar Far, Touch Lives Clyde Bennett East was born a sharecropper's son on Cole's Hill plantation, Sheva, Southside Virginia on July 19, 1921. As a farm boy growing up in Depression-era rural Virginia, young Clyde scraped together the money to go up in a biplane at a carnival. With that flight, his budding interest in aviation flamed into a passion. By the summer of 1941, at 19 years of age, Clyde was hitchhiking up to Canada to enlist in the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF). His goal was to become a military pilot and help fight the war against Hitler. He achieved that goal and became an...
LTC CLYDE BENNETT EAST, USAF, RET.
Fly High, Soar Far, Touch Lives
Clyde Bennett East was born a sharecropper's son on Cole's Hill plantation, Sheva, Southside Virginia on July 19, 1921. As a farm boy growing up in Depression-era rural Virginia, young Clyde scraped together the money to go up in a biplane at a carnival. With that flight, his budding interest in aviation flamed into a passion. By the summer of 1941, at 19 years of age, Clyde was hitchhiking up to Canada to enlist in the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF). His goal was to become a military pilot and help fight the war against Hitler.
He achieved that goal and became an accomplished fighter and reconnaissance pilot, first with the RCAF, then with the US Army Air Corps beginning in January, 1944. Staged in England and flying Spitfire and Mustang recon/fighter planes, he flew in and led numerous missions across the English Channel. Significantly, Clyde is merited with shooting down the first plane on D-Day, giving ground support to Patton's troops as they marched across France, and participating in the Battle of the Bulge. By war's end in 1945, Captain East had flown approx. 250 missions, and amassed 400 flight hours and 13 aerial victories. He was awarded the Silver Star, two Distinguished Flying Crosses and the Air Medal with 36 Oak Leaf Clusters.
His career as a military pilot continued on in the Korean War (1950-1953) where he earned the rank of Major and was awarded three more Flying Crosses and six additional Air Medals. With this achievement Clyde held the record for the highest number of repeat combat medals, an honor which stood unchallenged in the Guinness World Records for 13 years.
Clyde's accomplishments in the USAF continued through the 1950's and 60's, first as Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron Commander at Shaw AFB (1951-1954), then with a three-year stint as Training Advisor for the Italian Air Force (1954-1957). Returning to the States with his family, which now included wife Margaret and 6 children, Clyde attended USAF War College at Maxwell AFB, Montgomery, AL then on to TacRecon Squadron Commander at Shaw AFB, Sumter, SC where he flew the McDonnell RF-101 Voodoo. He was subsequently promoted to Lieutenant Colonel in 1959, then served overseas another 3 years as a Squadron Commander at Laon AFB near Laon, France.
Lt/Col East spent his last three years of active military service back at Shaw AFB as a Squadron Commander and Voodoo pilot. Notably, during the fall of 1962, he served as Detachment Commander in the Cuban Missile Crisis. Clyde flew numerous visual and photographic missions over Cuba and was later awarded the fourth cluster to his Distinguished Flying Cross. In 1964 he commanded a Voodoo unit deployed to South Vietnam in response to the Gulf of Tonkin incident.
After a 25-year period of exemplary service spanning three major wars across the globe, Lt/Col Clyde East retired from Air Force life in February, 1965. Clyde's commitment to his country continued an additional 28 years as a military analyst for RAND Corporation in Santa Monica, CA. The family recalls these as good years, where they could finally put down roots in southern California and become a normal family in a regular community.
In those years spent "on the ground", Clyde influenced countless lives, including his family which consisted of wife Margaret Ann and six children: Dennis, Kenneth, Penny, Jenny, Becky and Suzy. He cherished his family time, and was respected for his steady, thoughtful demeanor. Dad was the one to turn to for advice and support, whether for cars, colleges, careers or anything else! As the eight grandchildren came along, then seven great-grandchildren, Grandpa's easy, gentle ways drew all to him.
After retiring from RAND in 1993, Clyde turned to writing his memoirs and volunteer work. He was a member and usher at St. Jude's Catholic Church in Westlake Village for over 40 years. Besides regularly donating blood to the Red Cross, and driving cancer patients for the
, he was a longtime docent at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum in Simi Valley. From 1995 until his retirement in 2011, Clyde gave museum tours, while sometimes modestly sharing his wartime experiences. In this, he was a genuine piece of living history and role model to those around him. He was also a longstanding member of Wings Over Wendy's, a veterans group that meets in West Hills.
One of Clyde's greatest accomplishments was the 2013 completion and printing of his detailed autobiography, "The Way It Happened". Additionally it was a proud moment for him and family when, in January, 2014, Clyde was inducted into the American Heroes Gallery at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library. His display case of medals, received from five countries, is now housed in the Gallery.
On July 30, 2014, at the age of 93, Clyde Bennett East passed away peacefully in his Woodland Hills home. He was a WWII fighter ace who commanded squadrons in wartime and in peace, who ushered in the Jet Age and shook the hands of Presidents. Yet he was cloaked in humility, kindness and generosity. He flew high, soared far and profoundly touched many, many lives.
A Visitation will be held Thursday, Aug. 7th from 5-8pm with a 7pm Rosary at Pierce Brothers Valley Oaks Memorial Park, 5600 Lindero Canyon Rd, Westlake Village. A Funeral Mass will be held Friday, Aug. 8th at 10am at St. Jude's Catholic Church, 32032 W Lindero Canyon Rd, Westlake Village with interment immediately following at Pierce Bros Valley Oaks Memorial Park.
In lieu of flowers, you may make a donation in Clyde's name to the
By Phone: 1-800-227-2345
, P.O. Box 22718, Oklahoma City, OK 73123-1718
or to the
By Phone: 1-800-242-8721
, PO Box 742030, Los Angeles, CA 90074-2030
Both of these organizations were dear to Clyde's generous heart.