Repairing World War II planes was Thorn's ace job
Mar 18, 2013 (Menafn - Milwaukee Journal Sentinel - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --As a mechanic for U.S. Marine Corps fighter planes in World War II, Clarence Thorn would send letters home to his family in South Milwaukee describing life in foxholes alongside "jungle" landing strips of South Pacific islands.
Some of the letters would be cut short when the candle he was using for light burned down to a stub and Thorn would write it was time for him to go, Steve Jagler, a friend, said in reading from the correspondence Saturday.
Thorn died March 8. He was 91.
Island hopping from Midway to the Solomons and beyond, as U.S. military forces moved closer to Japan, Thorn met and worked on the planes of a handful of ace fighter pilots.
The one he told the most stories about was Pappy Boyington, commander of the Marine Corps' Black Sheep Squadron, made famous in the late 1970s TV show, "Baa Baa Black Sheep."
Little of the show's content was true, particularly the presence of nurses at the air base, Thorn frequently told his friend, Richard Heinrich of South Milwaukee.
"They never had any nurses with them in the jungle," Heinrich said.
After the war, Thorn showed Heinrich one of his mechanic's logs, listing planes he had fixed and what he did to get them ready for combat.
"If a plane returned from a fight, it needed work," said Heinrich, a friend from South Milwaukee. "There were never enough parts and Clarence would be taking parts from other planes to put his back together."
Those South Pacific islands became the central experience of his life, and Thorn's pride in his military service never dimmed in 70 years, Jagler said. Thorn joined a November 2011 Honor Flight to Washington, D.C., to visit the World War II memorial.
He enlisted shortly after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Until his death, Thorn regularly wore a Marine Corps cap bearing the VMF 215 reference to one of the WW II squadron of Corsair fighters that he worked on.
Boyington's unit, VMF 214, moved across the same arc of islands. From Espiritu, the squadrons attacked Japanese forces in the Solomons beginning in July 1943. Both squadrons fought in the battle for Bougainville.
Thorn often described watching Boyington jump out of a fighter plane after returning safely from dogfights and raising a hand in triumph, with one finger extended for each Japanese plane he had shot down, recalled Jagler, executive editor of BizTimes Milwaukee magazine.
Memories of those heroic gestures were coupled with personal stories of fighting dysentery and other illnesses, Jagler said.
A nephew, John Mutter of Shawano, also heard stories of foxholes and Pappy Boyington and remembers his uncle showing him an autograph from the ace.
After the war, Thorn returned to South Milwaukee and worked in the region's heavy industry from the Ladish Co. in Cudahy to Bucyrus International in South Milwaukee, Mutter said.
In addition to Mutter, Thorn is survived by two brothers and other relatives.
Funeral services, complete with a 21-gun salute and other military honors, were held Saturday at Peace of Mind Funeral & Cremation Services in West Milwaukee.
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