William J. Conlon
Captain, United States Air Force
Englewood, New Jersey
Born October 11, 1921
Captain, U.S. Air Force
Service Number AO680858
Missing in Action - Presumed Dead
Died August 1, 1952 in Korea
Captain Conlon was the pilot of a F-80C Shooting Star fighter interceptor with the 36th Fighter-Bomber Squadron, 8th Fighter-Bomber Group.
On August 1, 1952, while on a combat mission of strafing enemy positions near Inchon, North Korea, his aircraft received a direct hit by anti-aircraft fire and crashed.
He was listed as Missing in Action and was presumed dead on July 15, 1953. His name is inscribed on the Courts of the Missing at the Honolulu Memorial.
Captain Conlon was awarded the Air Medal, the
Purple Heart, the Korean Service Medal, the United Nations Service Medal,
the National Defense Service Medal, the Korean Presidential Unit Citation
and the Republic of Korea War Service Medal.
This Friday morning, Doris Conlon Mills officially will say goodbye to her flyboy, one of more than 8,100 Americans who remain unaccounted for from the Korean War.
The unusual ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery to honor Air Force Captain William "Bill" J. Conlon is more than a half-century late. It came about because of a meeting Mills attended last October in which she learned of the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command, a U.S. Defense Department task force that works to recover and identify fallen service members who never made it home. There, she learned Conlon was eligible for a military funeral -- body or not.
"I think they're doing a wonderful thing to help people," said Mills, 84, of Mount Dora, "because you have all these questions and just to know somebody hasn't given up. I always felt he should have had some kind of recognition for his life."
Arlington performs about 15 to 20 memorial funerals every year for service members whose remains never were recovered or scattered at sea, said Kara McCarthy, chief of public affairs at the cemetery.
"The families want their loved ones to be remembered forever, but hopefully this is only temporary until the remains are recovered," McCarthy said. "We never want to leave a comrade."
Mills met Conlon in math class at Dwight Morrow High School in Englewood, N.J., in 1939. One day, at a roller-skating rink, they skated to swing music and he later asked her out. Soon they were a pair.
Marriage was "just in the distance," she said, but Pearl Harbor altered the plan. Bill joined the Army Air Forces. But he left her with something by which to remember him.
"He gave me a pearl 'wait-for-me' ring," she said.
She didn't have to wait long. He proposed on Christmas of 1942, and they wed in June, after Bill learned the only action he'd see would be showing pilots-to-be the ropes.
"At first he was a little discouraged," she said, "because everybody wanted to get over there and get the Nazis."
When the war ended, he joined the Air Force Reserve. He hoped to fly friendlier skies as an airline pilot, but soon learned that a single-engine flier like him was an anachronism in a multiengine airline world. So he turned to another dream: fatherhood.
With his wife six months pregnant, war again intruded -- this time on the Korean peninsula.
Still, before he deployed with the 36th Fighter-Bomber Squadron, 8th Fighter-Bomber Group, Conlon delighted in holding his newborn son, Richard.
Every day, she wrote him letters, and he wrote back. While on leave in Japan, he called her. He told her about a silk lounge outfit he had sent her. Something to wear when he came home.
Two days later, her son in her arms, she opened the door to a Western Union man. Captain William J. Conlon, the telegram read, was missing in action.
Weeks later, a box arrived from Korea. She stared at a lovely silk outfit, mocking her.
Details emerged in letters shortly after that. On August 1, 1952, Conlon had completed his sortie near Sonam-ni, North Korea, when his wing man radioed that the left wing of Conlon's jet was aflame.
He climbed to 1,000 feet and turned toward safe haven. Five miles south of Sonam-ni, his aircraft spun out of control and crashed.
Only later would his wife learn that no one saw Conlon eject before his F-80 crashed, disintegrated and burned.
So she held out hope. She heard about prisoner exchanges along the demilitarized zone, but her spirits sank when her husband wasn't among the returnees.
Their son "had a picture of his father and he'd always say good night to him," she said. "You can't explain to a 1-year-old that his father is not coming back. It takes time, but you get it across eventually."
And eventually, her father tried to get across that she really had to accept it. "I went to the Lord: 'I don't know how to go on,' " she said.
Her family provided a blueprint.
They introduced her to a man whom she eventually married in 1955, after she agreed "that I could accept that [Conlon] was gone."
Officially, the Air Force had accepted that two years earlier: On July 15, 1953, Conlon was reclassified as killed in action.
He was 30.
In Doris Mills' mind, Arlington was the only place to lay to rest her high-school sweetheart -- if only symbolically.
There, seven sections are reserved for memorial markers; Conlon's marker will reside in section K. He will receive an Air Force band, a 21-gun salute and a bugler to sound the familiar farewell of taps.
Like thousands whose loved ones served in America's foreign wars, she may never definitively know what became of the young man she first met in math class and then married. His remains may never touch the soil of home.
But stalwart in her faith, she is sure of one thing.
"Next time I see him will be in heaven above," she said.
CONLON, WILLIAM J