Concord WWII veteran receives French Legion of Honor medal
By Lou Fancher
In lifetimes filled with the risk of being knocked over, down, or out, retired U.S. Air Force Maj. Russell "Lynn" Clanin and his identical twin, Maj. Raymond "Glenn" Clanin, have collided most often with luck during their 92 years.
Drafted into the U.S. military in 1943, the Clanin brothers flew nearly 25 percent of the 207 operational missions of the B-26 Marauder "Flak Bait." The twin-engine bomber completed more runs than any other American aircraft during World War II.
Glenn had 26 outings in the B-26; Lynn, a Concord resident, flew 23, but says news reports have had errors in the numbers. While stationed during the war in Beauvais, France, neither man suffered injury or capture, despite their 49 "Flak Bait" and other missions.
Honored Dec. 2, at Los Angeles Air Force Base in El Segundo with the Legion of Honor medal, the French government's highest distinction, World War II veteran Lynn Clanin says he doesn't often think about awards, although he's won his fair share.
"I never thought about medals, really. I was lucky to get out unscathed and never had a crew member injured. We had aircraft damage, sure, but I was very lucky. Maybe somebody was looking out for me."
Maybe so, but hard work and a healthy sense of humor likely set Clanin up for long-term survival. Growing up as one of nine children in a family he says was "poor enough to do anything to get food on the table," he worked five-hour shifts in a bowling alley from 7 p.m. to midnight as a 13-year-old schoolboy.
"Glenn and I made 75 cents a night," Clanin recalls. "We'd get a nickel hamburger and coke on the way home. We didn't get much sleep, but it didn't bother our scholarship. We got good grades."
Hefting bowling pins and balls onto chest-high racks -- "We were short, so it was high," he explains -- Clanin estimates they lifted two tons, every night. The upper body strength may have made the B-26, a plane with a reputation for being difficult to maneuver, easier to handle.
"B-26s weren't hard to fly, except landing and taking off. You had to get to 150 mph on the ground with a 400-pound bomb payload before it would fly. That scared a lot of guys off, but I was young and thought I was a hot shot," he said. "You could get shot up and it would still fly. If you had trouble with the engine though, you were dead."
Marrying sisters, the Clanins were lucky in love as well as warfare.
Transitioning after the war to civilian life, they ran a dry cleaning business, then split off in separate directions, with Lynn pursuing aircraft manufacturing, real estate and employment with East Bay Municipal Water District in the Bay Area.
His brother stayed in Southern California and worked in the savings and loan industry. Geographically separated more than they had been during their childhood in Farmington, Mo., or while stationed at the same base during World War II, the families took frequent vacations together in a shared, 32-foot motor home.
"My dad talked about being shot at a lot by the Germans. We saw pictures and Dad had a B26 model he made," says Russell Clanin made," says Russell Clanin II.
"My mom was Navy WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service) stateside, because women weren't allowed on ships.
"Patriotism was how we were raised: salute the flag; use 'sir' when talking to strangers.
"Receiving the Medal of Honor is probably one of the highlights of his life."
His father confirms the idea. "I've never had anything more complimentary than sitting there telling stories and hearing people talk about us," Clanin says.
Clanin's wife Elyn, who went by "Pattie," died in March 1986. Living on his own for nearly 30 years, he says, "I'm either courageous or stupid."
But even 92 years of good luck and jocularity doesn't erase his appreciation for the old warhorse that kept him alive. "Flak Bait" is on display in a restoration hangar at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Va.
"The nose is fixed and looks great. It gave me chills to stand next to it," he says.
Nor does time diminish the pleasure of having risked his life and survived to tell about it.
"I'm not concerned with how many missions I flew, I 'm just happy to say I helped the French and our country.
"I got ample repayment when I got this medal."