07/06/08 — Dave McClenny and other World War II airmen honored in Brussels

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Dave McClenny and other World War II airmen honored in Brussels

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on July 6, 2008 2:01 AM


Assistant News Editor

The monument, a six-foot tall stone stele, stands in the median of a Belgian highway. On it, inscribed in gold letters set in a red granite slab, are the names of 10 men and the date, June 23, 1944.

Erected in 1994, it stands in honor and in memory of a
B-24 Liberator Bomber and its airmen who were shot down over
occupied Brussels shortly after the invasion of Normandy.

One of those men was
the engineer,
Staff Sgt. David McClenny of Pikeville -- a member of the unlucky 492nd Bomb Group, part of the 8th U.S. Army Air Force.

It was there that McClenny, who later became better known locally as a teacher, administrator and coach, became a prisoner-of-war.

It was an unwanted status he achieved after successfully parachuting away from the wreckage of that downed plane and landing in a back yard in the Brussels suburb of Watermael-Boitsfort.

"He was literally blown out of the sky," said widow Edith McClenny.

He then was taken hostage by German forces and held for about 10 months, participating in the infamous Black March, until being liberated by Allied Forces in April 1945.

Mrs. McClenny explained that the experience was something that stayed with him his whole life, until the lingering effects of his injuries contributed to his death in 1998.

But, she continued, he never discussed it much, except to comment on his distaste for cabbage and turnips -- foods he spent three months digging out of the frozen ground in order to survive the forced march,
lack of food and freezing

"He didn't really talk about the ordeal much, other than that they starved him to death," she said. "He just said that nobody could understand what being a POW was like except another POW, and that it was best to try to
forget it."

And over the years he did, receiving his teaching certificate from Elon College -- where he met the future Mrs. McClenny -- courtesy of the G.I. Bill.

From there, he moved back to Wayne County where he taught history and coached baseball, basketball and football.

He also served as an administrator at Mount Olive, Charles B. Aycock and Eastern Wayne high schools, as well as at Grantham School, and later served on the county Board of Education and on the Pikeville Board of Commissioners.

He was eventually inducted into the Goldsboro/Dillard High School and Charles B. Aycock High School halls of fame for his exploits both as a player and a coach.

"He loved it," Mrs. McClenny said. "He called them 'his boys,' whether he taught them or coached them. He touched so many lives."

But in June 1994, he couldn't simply put his past behind him any longer.

He had been invited to return to Brussels for the dedication of a monument the local government had built in honor of the 10 airmen -- one of whom McClenny saved, but eight of whom died in the crash.

"He didn't want to go.
It was very painful," Mrs. McClenny said. "It was the only time I saw him shed a tear (at the Ardennes American Cemetery). They were like family.

"But (the Belgians) paid for everything. They treated us like royalty. The president couldn't have been treated any better."

It was an honor she never forgot, and when former Goldsboro resident and deputy chairman of the NATO Military Committee Lt. Gen. Karl Eikenberry made an appearance last year at the Goldsboro Rotary Club, she approached him with their story.

"... She told me the remarkable story of how a very generous Belgium people had built a monument in honor of her husband and his fellow
B-24 bomber crew members shot down over Brussels
during the Second World War," Eikenberry said during a small ceremony at the monument on June 24. "She also told me that her husband had passed away some four years after their memorable visit to Belgium. I offered to locate the monument ... which (appropriately) lists the names of all of the crew members (and) notes that their sacrifice was 'For Our Liberty,' the most noble cause of all.

"... On behalf of Mrs. McClenny and the families of all of David McClenny's teammates whose names are on this monument, let me say thanks to the people of Watermael-Boisfort and the Belgian Air Force for (their) kindness and for not forgetting Staff Sgt. David McClenny, his crew, and all of the American servicemen who gave their lives in the defense of freedom in Europe during the Second World War."

And, Mrs. McClenny said,
it is a special thing
knowing that they are still

"He was just a remarkable person," she said. "He was very humble. He never tooted his own horn very much and he probably should have, so I'm doing it for him."