Clancy Barlow, 86, of Three Rivers, has a lot on his mind these days like caring for his wife and taking care of the couple’s home on the North Fork. Gail, his wife of 63 years, is his priority now as she is in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease and needs constant care.
So when a friend at church told him that as a veteran of two wars he qualified for an Honor Flight he was curious but not really thinking it was possible to make the trip. Clancy served in the U.S. Marine Corps in China after Japan’s surrender in August 1945 and then returned to active duty in 1950 to serve in Korea for a couple more tours.
Honor Flight is a nonprofit national organization dedicated to transporting as many U.S. military veterans as possible to Washington, D.C., to see the memorials of the wars they fought. These three-day, escorted, all-expenses-paid trips depart from dozens of airports around the U.S.
Currently, the Honor Flights are focused on bringing veterans of World War II to the National World War II Memorial, and any veteran with a terminal illness to see the memorial of the war they experienced. Veterans of wars other than World War II are now going on the trips if the seats are available.
The Central Valley Honor Flight committee members were elated to reserve a seat for Clancy, technically a veteran of two wars though he never entered the Marine Corps until 1947, two years after World War II officially ended.
“In China we were mopping up the aftermath of the war and trying to safeguard those who opposed the communist takeover,” Clancy recalled. “They never told us exactly why we were there, but I believe it was to defend Standard Oil’s property.”
Clancy was given an early honorable discharge the following year.
“I remained in the U.S. Marine Corps inactive reserve so that if I was called up again it would be as a Marine,” Clancy said. “I was recalled two years later and immediately shipped out to Korea.”
Once Clancy found out his son could come and stay with Gail for a few days, his Honor Flight application was approved quickly. Within a few days, on June 16, he was assigned a seat on an Allegiant Airlines charter out of Fresno and bound for Washington, D.C.
Clancy said he was quite sure he was the only veteran on board who drove himself to the Fresno airport for the 5:30 a.m. flight. Before the flight, Clancy met his guardian Bob Blower of Stockton.
“The guardian volunteers and is with you every step of the way to ensure your safety and make sure you don’t fall,” Clancy said.
The flight refueled in Wichita, Kan., and was uneventful except that Clancy’s guardian became ill.
“He had a touch of something and, ironically, I ended up taking care of him,” Clancy said.
Once they landed at Reagan International Airport the veterans were bussed to the Crown Plaza Hotel.
“Mostly what we did for the first part of the trip was hurry up and wait, but the next morning we boarded three busses — a red, white, or blue one so you could remember which one you were on — and escorted to the World War II Memorial,” Clancy said.
There were members of Congress and other dignitaries who addressed the veterans. Everywhere they went, people spontaneously cheered the vets and thanked them for their service.
The group also visited the Korean War and the Vietnam War memorials. Clancy was moved by all the names of the dead and thought of all the families who suffered tragic losses.
At Arlington National Cemetery, across the Potomac River in Virginia, Clancy said he opted for a wheelchair.
“We were told there would be lots of walking and time on our feet,” Clancy said. “What really got to me was the changing of the guard at Arlington and hearing those commands like ‘present arms.’ For a few minutes, I went back 70 years to when I was in the Corps.”
Clancy said he couldn’t hold back the tears. Memories from three tours in Korea and China came back as if they had happened yesterday. For Clancy, the memories of being in the Corps were mostly good ; the bad memories of the hell that so many endured are repressed deep in his subconscious, he said.
While in Korea, Clancy began to draw and paint the scenes he witnessed. He continued his art later throughout his 21-year career with the Los Angeles Police Department and still produces compelling works that now include multimedia gourd art too.
The art has always been a good outlet and a source of relaxation for Clancy.
“To be able to go on the Honor Flight was the chance of a lifetime, and every place we went was close and easy to get to,” Clancy said. “The 70 years since I was in the Corps just disappeared.”
The June 16-18 event was the seventh Central Valley Honor Flight. It consisted of 65 veterans from 21 hometowns in 12 different Central Valley counties. There were five women and 60 men representing Army, Navy, Marines, Coast Guard, Army Air Corps, and Merchant Marines.
Clancy, the first Three Rivers resident to participate, advises that if anyone qualifies for an Honor Flight, they should, by all means, go. It will be an emotional, but memorable three days.
About the Honor Flight Network
“One more tour with honor” would best describe the Honor Flight Network created by Earl Morse, a physician and retired U.S. Air Force captain. His goal was to honor the veterans he had taken care of for the past 27 years by getting them to Washington, D.C., to visit this nation’s memorials of service.
Veterans spend three days in Washington, D.C., on guided tours, talking and sharing life stories, all while being treated like royalty. Each veteran has a guardian who is with them at all times to assist them on their mission.
All expenses are paid for by donations. More than 99,000 veterans have traveled to Washington, D.C., with the Network. There are 127 hubs in 41 states.
Central Valley Honor Flight alone has sent more than 500 veterans to Washington. D.C., in seven trips. The next Honor Flight will be held October 19-21 and depart from Castle Airport in Atwater. Any veteran who hasn’t seen the memorials of Washington, D.C., should apply for this unique opportunity.