Unraveling a family history leads to Laurel war hero

History Matters

January 03, 2014|By Kevin Leonard

It started as idle chatter on the beach. My family was vacationing with old friends we've known since our Laurel High School days in the early 1970s, Richard and Denise Pond. Rich was talking about his father, Clayton Pond, an American Indian and World War II veteran, who died in 1989. His father was typical of many World War II veterans, and reluctant to talk about his military service. He would occasionally drop hints and tidbits that made his children curious, but when pressed for details, he clammed up.

At Rich Pond's request and after some digging, I found an amazing story of a small-town hero who was written about in newspapers across the country in the 1940s. Even more amazing was that his family, growing up in West Laurel, had no idea.

Clayton Pond told his family many stories about growing up on an Indian reservation in Oregon. A member of the Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians, Pond was born in 1920 and lived on the Siletz Reservation.

The Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians is comprised of 27 different tribes, mostly from the West Coast. The Confederation has a long history, dating back hundreds of years. The Siletz Reservation was established in 1855, amid the controversial, and conflicting, political climate of the time concerning Indians.

Pond described to his family the discrimination and prejudice he experienced growing up, especially from the local Oregon population. He was not one to back down from a fight, and in high school he became a boxer. He won the Oregon State Golden Gloves championship in his weight class in 1939.

He told stories about how the Siletz Indians coped with being discriminated. For example, Oregon state law at the time made it illegal for American Indians to purchase alcohol. Clayton had an enterprising uncle who acquired a fake ID with a Japanese name on it. He became the source for alcohol for residents on the reservation. His enterprise backfired with the beginning of World War II, however. He said his uncle, along with thousands of Japanese-Americans, was put in an internment camp. It took him a few months to convince the authorities of his true heritage and get released.

After graduating from high school, Pond enrolled at the University of Oregon. After a year and a half, though, he became discouraged because he figured that even with a degree his heritage limited his opportunities, so he enlisted in the Army.

'Flew a small plane'

Pond also told many stories to his family about the years following the warHe met his wife, Eileen Shue, in 1947 while posted in Washington, D.C. She worked at the State Department, and they met at a dance packed with GIs and local girls.

They corresponded for the next year while Pond was stationed overseas, and married upon his return to Washington in 1948.

During the 1950s, Pond was a flight engineer in the Air Force, working for the Strategic Air Command. He was in the 320th Air Refueling Squadron, based at March Air Force Base in California. The 320th provided in-air refueling support to SAC's bombers that stayed airborne in case of nuclear attack on the U.S.

Patricia [Trish] Drake, a North Laurel resident, recalled that her father was away for nearly six months around the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. "He'd never been away that long since I was born," said Drake.

Later that year, Pond retired from the Air Force, and his family, now with five children, relocated to Maryland eventually to West Laurel.

Pond told his family many stories at one time or another, but whenever World War II was brought up, he went silent. Rich and Trish remembered that occasionally he would hint at his wartime service, telling them t he "flew a small plane" during the war, and he said he was in Asia for awhile, but wouldn't discuss anything further.

Pond, a master sergeant, did indeed spend some time in Asia. My research at the National Archives and from other sources discovered that Pond had a distinguished and heroic career that he just didn't want to talk about.

His service record shows that he attended liaison pilot training and flight engineer school in 1943. World War II liaison pilots performed a variety of tasks, such as observation and reconnaissance, transportation of battle commanders and messages, rescue and evacuation of injured soldiers and other duties. They flew Stinson L5 Sentinel aircraft, which were able to land and take off in a short distance from unimproved airstrips.

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