Clarence G. Haynes
Lieutenant Colonel, United States Air Force
GUEST COLUMN | TOM HOVIS
The Charlotte Observer
Giving thanks for those who served U.S. bravelyChristmas was a day to remember friend who flew in World War II live near Washington, D.C., in Fairfax, Virginia. Just about every year, it is a tradition in our family to go see the national Christmas tree on the south lawn of the White House.
This year, after visiting the tree, I paid a debt to a friend and brave World War II veteran. I remembered him at the World War II Memorial.
Going back to 1944, I was learning to ride a bicycle while my friend and hero Clarence "Buck" Haynes was receiving his wings in the Army Air Corps.
Buck and I met at an Air Force veterans' meeting. I was born in Lincolnton. His family roots were in Lincoln County; his family later moved to the Burlington area.
He had graduated from North Carolina State College, as it was called back then. His skills were well matched to fly America's -- some say the world's -- best fighter plane, the P-51 Mustang fighter. The aircraft was so fast, only the best of the best pilots could successfully fly this beautiful fighter.
Saving the air war
Buck joined the elite squadrons that some say saved the air war over Germany. Until that time, the heavy bombers flying from England to Germany were at the mercy of the fast German fighter known as the Me-109. American fighters did not have the range to cover the bombers on the entire missions to Germany and back.The P-51 fighters with their drop fuel tanks could cover the skies over the bombers because they now had the range for the round trip. The bomber "boys" called the fighters their "Little Friends."
The bomber crews would know the Mustangs were around when they would see the fighter fuel drop tanks being released so the fighters could go after the enemy.
Buck's squadron, based in England, did its job well. Bomber losses dropped dramatically, making it possible for more crews to return to base safely.
The German pilots were more experienced than most of the American P-51 pilots. As expected, some of the fighter squadrons started to experience losses. The P-51s performed well and the tide was turning despite the losses.
On December 16, 1944, the German Army kicked
off a massive offensive that was planned to bring victory to the Nazis.
The Allies would call the offensive the Battle of the Bulge because the
Germans would test the Allies' front lines.
Finally, on Christmas Eve, the weather changed for the better. The 8th Air Force put up 1,000 aircraft to bomb enemy positions to help the ground forces. Buck and his two roommates were able to fly that day. They returned safely and had planned a big Christmas dinner the next evening. These guys were special to him because he had already lost three other roommates who did not come back from missions.
Christmas day dawned clear. Buck and his roommates took off again. While over the English Channel, Buck's fighter, the "Rabbit Rebel," had mechanical trouble and had to return to base.
He was worried about his friends going on their
missions. At the end of the day, the two fighter pilots did not return.
With great sadness, Buck had to continue without his buddies. Another set
of roommates took their place.
Buck was buried in Arlington National Cemetery December 16, 2005, almost 61 years to the day when he lost his best friends.
Buck went on to fly America's fastest jet fighters and completed his career flying missions in Vietnam. After a tour at the Pentagon, he retired with his family in Fairfax, Virginia.
Like many World War II veterans, he did not talk much about the war. He did talk about his two friends who were lost on Christmas Day and remembered every year during the holidays. He had their pictures on his wall at home. They looked like kids in their leather flying jackets.
He made trips back to England to visit a memorial built by grateful citizens from the town near his old fighter base. He took his family back there so they could see the memorial to those who did not return from their missions.
Buck finally started to talk about his experiences because he felt it was important for the young people to know about his friends and the others who gave their lives for the freedoms we enjoy today.
Buck was buried with full military honors at Arlington.
I made it my mission to pay a debt to him and
his two buddies. I went by the World War II Memorial on Christmas Day to
remember Buck and his two roommates. I silently read his name and the names
of his two friends.