Dutch village honors Santa Rosa, Calif. WWII pilot
The Press Democrat, Santa Rosa, Calif.
SANTA ROSA, Calif. — 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, Elán 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.
In the summer of '43 in England, the 24-year-old Clary wed a British woman who'd also enlisted in the war effort. Jack and Barbara Harrison Clary would be married 53 years; she died in Santa Rosa in 2002.
She came close to losing her pilot husband just three months after the wedding.
On the evening of Sept. 29, 1943, Jack Clary and his crew flew from England's Tholthorpe air station in a twin-tailed British-built Halifax and carried a load of bombs toward Bochum, Germany.
Short of the target, a Luftwaffe Junker 88 attacked and disabled the plane. Clary didn't know when he bailed out if he was over Holland or Germany.
The bomber crashed into woods outside Boekelo.
(A young man who witnessed the crash, Wim Winkelhuis, spoke all of his life about wondering who the crewmen were and what became of them. His grandson, Rob Lanting, researched the incident this past year and, along with Erik Schaddelee, Harold Pot and Ronnie Heijinke, arranged the memorial dedication ceremony.)
At 11 p.m. the night he was shot down, Jack Clary approached a country home and saw a teen-aged girl sitting at a table, writing. Though uncertain whether the family was German or Dutch, he tapped on the door.
Jules van Oven answered. Clary told him something close to, “Me, American. Pilot. Plane crash.” And he surely breathed a great sigh when van Oven responded in perfect English, “Welcome. Come in.”
Van Oven was a Dutch professor who'd been fired from Leiden University the previous year because of his opposition to the nazification of the school. He detested the German occupation of his country and told Clary he would connect him with similarly minded Dutch who would help him to escape and elude the Germans.
Clary, a Roman Catholic, set off on a perilous, two-month underground journey across Holland, then occupied Belgium and France and neutral Spain. But before he left he offered van Oven's daughter, Lies, a token of gratitude: a ring bearing the likeness of St. Christopher.
Now 87, Lies van Oven was wearing the ring when Jack Clary's daughter and granddaughter met her at the commemoration in Boekelo.
With the help of members of the resistance along the Comet Line, Clary reached British-controlled Gibraltar on Nov. 28, 1943, and was flown back to England. Soon he was back to flying combat missions.
After the war, he and his English wife settled in Santa Rosa. Clary went into the service station business. For years, he ran Clary's Chevron near the former Los Robles Lodge on Cleveland Avenue, and later Clary's Chevron in Larkfield.
His daughters said that when Clary spoke of being shot down in '43 and crossing much of Europe and also the Pyrenees to get back to Britain, he would focus mostly on his appreciation of the humanity and courage of the people who helped him.
The journey the late pilot's daughter and granddaughter just took demonstrated that among the Dutch they met, the feeling remains powerfully mutual.