Born in Pittsylvania County, Virginia on July 19, 1921,
Clyde Bennett East was the fifth of nine children. Raised
on a rural family farm, East longed to experience adventure
in the military. At 19, he traveled to Hamilton, Ontario,
Canada to enlist in the Royal Canadian Air Force. Soon after,
East was admitted to pilot training and completed his training
in 1942. His first assignment took him to Europe, where he
flew interdiction missions in the P-51A Mustang, attacking
ground targets in France, Belgium, and Holland. He also searched
for U-boats over the water.
After his 26th mission, East transferred to the US Army
Air Corps and was assigned as a 1st Lieutenant with the 15th
Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron, 9th Air Force, one of the
only American squadrons flying British Spitfires. East amassed
about 200 hours in the Spitfire before the squadron took
delivery of the venerable P-51B Mustang and shortly after
the F-6D Mustang (photo recon version).
On June 6, 1944, East participated in the D-Day invasion
of Normandy in the Mustang. It was during this mission that
East and his wingman stumbled upon several FW-190s landing
and promptly dispatched them with their .50 caliber machine
guns, claiming the first aerial victories of the invasion.
East flew recon missions deep into France and Belgium and
noted enemy road, rail, and river activity as well as conditions
of various targets post-air strike. He claimed three aerial
victories during one mission and, on another, was able to
jump a German Messerschmitt 109 flying low and unaware of
the Mustang’s presence behind him.
In the fall of 1944, East fought against a German counteroffensive
in what is now known as the Battle of the Bulge. Becoming
a confirmed ace in March 1945, East would go on to claim
a total of 13 aerial kills against the German Luftwaffe in
World War II.
East stayed with the US Air Force after the conclusion of
World War II after amassing more than 350 hours of combat
time and 200 combat missions. He was reassigned to the 12th
Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron and began flying one of
the first jets to enter service with the United States, the
RF-80. At the outbreak of the Korean War, East flew
combat missions again in the RF-51D Mustang as well as the
RF-80 Shooting Star.
Upon his return to the states he commanded several different
tactical recon squadrons, one of which flew an additional
100 visual and photo missions over Cuba as ordered by President
John F. Kennedy. He retired from the Air Force as a Lieutenant
Colonel in February 1965.
East was one of the most decorated fighter pilots during
World War II. He was awarded the Silver Star, Distinguished
Flying Cross, and Air Medal with 36 Oak Leaf Clusters. In
1955, The Guinness Book of World Records listed
him as having the highest number of repeat awards of combat
East resides in Oak Park, California with his wife and has