Nephew uncovers story of Brookings’ Claire Eclov

At the end of World War II, the vast majority of men and women who served in the American military had little desire to talk about their war experiences.  Most just “wanted to get the job done and go home.”

Over the following decades, many of these quiet heroes eventually received their well-deserved recognition. Many of them also shared their story with family and friends as time softened the harshness of their experiences.

But there were thousands of young Americans, like Brookings resident Staff Sgt. Claire Walter Eclov, who never received a hero’s recognition and whose family never received any substantive information about his military life and times.  

Eclov was born in Stockholm, South Dakota, in 1921 and then moved to Brookings in 1928 where he lived until entering the Army Air Corps in 1943. He was the radio operator-gunner aboard a B-24 Liberator heavy bomber named “Berlin Bound” that was stationed at the Attlebridge airbase located a few miles from Norwich, England. The crew of the Berlin Bound flew 14 missions over the heart of Germany and participated in the Battle of the Bulge in December 1944.

On Feb. 17, 1945, Eclov and five of his crew mates were killed while attempting an emergency landing near the village of Field Dalling in the East Anglia area of Great Britain.

The Eclov family would suffer a second war-related death in 1945. Claire’s father Vensel was a veteran of World War I. While serving as an ambulance driver in France, he was exposed to some form of chemical poisoning and returned home and lived with the resultant physical damage until July 1945.

Claire’s mother Anna never fully recovered from the emotional toll of losing a husband and her eldest son in the same year. There was very little discussion of Claire and no written record of his life and times. There were no visits from air force buddies; and if there was a written statement, it was lost in the process of moving.

But in 2015, Claire’s nephew, Mark Eclov, who lives in Lexington, Kentucky, began a five-year search for his uncle’s story.

“I wanted more recognition for my uncle, but there was little to find for over seven decades,” Eclov said. “My goal was to affirm or rewrite the very short family story about my uncle using recorded facts and/or firsthand commentary. I didn’t have the time or resources for this effort until about 2015.  At that point, the internet had finally evolved enough to get the process started.”

Eclov added that being able to provide more facts than fiction was due to a long list of people and organizations both in the U.S. and Great Britain that are trying to revive the stories of those heroes who never returned home.  

Eclov was able to make contact with a number of individuals in and around the village of Field Dalling that had been interested in the crash. Parts of the plane have been collected and placed in two museums. Eyewitness accounts of the accident have also been collected and provided Eclov with enough material for a small book that will be distributed to family members and all the individuals who helped with the research.

The most poignant moment in the process of rediscovering his uncle’s story may have been when Eclov was able to find the last man to see his uncle alive.

“Thanks to a 50-year-old telegram that was given to me by the historian of the 466 Bomb Group, I was able to talk to 93-year-old John Fay, from Ojai, California, who was the navigator of the Berlin Bound,” Eclov said.  

“On that last flight, just before he jumped from the smoke-filled plane, he saw my uncle sitting at his radio desk probably attempting to help the pilot contact someone on the ground to find a safe place to dump their bombs before attempting to make a crash landing.

“Mr. Fay is in failing health, but I was able to get a finished story to him by way of his daughter and it provided him with some wonderful conversations with his family about his time with the 466 Bomb Group and his memories of my uncle.”

The capstone to all this research work was the dedication ceremony for a permanent memorial held on Feb. 17 at the town hall in Field Dalling, England. Local residents, military representatives, clergy and those who had done the construction and paperwork for the memorial gathered to honor the six American airmen and two Italian POWs who were killed during the final flight of the Berlin Bound.

“It has been an incredible journey not only to resurrect his story but to find so many others who will not let the courage and sacrifice of my uncle and his crew-mates fade with the passage of time,” Eclov added.

COURTESY OF: The Brookings Register

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