Murfreesboro resident and World War II bomber pilot Lt. Col. Jacob McClenny joined more than 30 members of his family from Texas and Tennessee on Oct 6 at The Warehouse banquet facility to celebrate his 99th birthday, his long life and his good fortune.
McClenny was the commander and pilot of B-17 “Little Chapel,” flying 24 missions over Germany without losing a man. At the time, that was a relatively rare occurrence.
McClenny and his crew considered the name of their plane to be lucky for them, although there were a few close calls. The most extraordinary incident came on Jan. 28, 945, when they watched a German 88mm anti-aircraft artillery flak shell pierce their left wing, wedging itself inside without exploding.
After landing at back at the base in England, McClenny mounted a ladder and fished into the wing for the shell. Much of it was intact, but he could not find an important part of the fuse. At a debriefing, intelligence personnel said it was not common, but not without precedent. Much of the German war industry included slave labor, and many of the slaves sabotaged the weapons they made as often as they could.
Many of the missions McClenny and the crew of “Little Chapel” flew included carpet-bombing railroad junctions to interrupt the flow of German war materiel and troops. At times, the railyards and junctions were the primary targets, and at times a good secondary target when cloudy European weather obscured the primary targets.
Usually at that point of the war, bombers toggled their bomb loads when they saw the bombardier in the No. 1 bomber in the formation drop his bombs. On one mission, the No. 2 aircraft accidentally toggled its bomb load prematurely, and the remainder of the aircraft duly dropped their bombs as well.
“We really tore up a German farmer’s fields on that mission,” McClenny said.
His daughter Joyce Anderson, with the help of her four sisters, planned the family gathering, but they were coming up with different numbers of “Papa Mac’s” direct descendants. However, in an extremely clear and precise voice, McClenny counted: “I have five daughters, with one son dying 10 days after birth, six grandchildren, seven great-grandchildren, and five great-great-grandchildren.”
He again acknowledged that the line of his large family may be due in part to war industry slaves that chose to risk their lives to save those who were saving them.
McClenny’s mother had four sons, and all four sons were in the military. At least one son could have asked for an exemption so the risk of his mother losing all of her sons would be eliminated. None of the sons applied for the exemption; they all wanted to serve.
Prior to joining the Army for World War II, McClenny said, “I was working for North American Aviation in Grande Prairie, Texas as a toolmaker for the B-24 Liberator bomber.”
The wartime service interrupted his schooling, but with the Army Air Corps assistance, he later earned his GED degree.
At 99, McClenny remains mentally sharp and active. He works a lot on his computer, emailing his extended family and speaking with them via FaceTime.
Family members said that McClenny had discovered the secret to a long life.
He said: “Don’t die.”