Cleon Wilson Raese Jr.
Cleon Wilson Raese Jr.
Army Air Corps Second Lieutenant Cleon Wilson Raese Jr. was born in Davis, Tucker County, West Virginia, on November 19, 1919. The oldest son of Cleon Sr. (1888-1954) and Salena Matilda Viering Raese (1893-1971), Cleon would be joined by brothers Donald Walter (1921) and John Viering (1933). Spending his childhood in Tucker County, he attended local schools, graduating from Davis High School in 1938. He then attended Greenbrier Military School and Massanutten Military Academy.
His father, Cleon Sr., a longtime merchant in Davis and graduate of Davis and Elkins College, served in the West Virginia House of Delegates from 1941 through 1948. He also chaired the Tucker County chapter of the American Red Cross during the war years. Service to the community was apparently a Raese family value; it is a theme running through several generations of the family, starting with the first John Raese in West Virginia (b. 1857), originally from Maryland, who worked first as a skilled carpenter and tradesman but later acquired enough capital to become an entrepreneur. Involved in real estate, banking, timber, farming, and merchandising, he served two terms on city council and one term as mayor. (Source: The History of West Virginia, Old and New, Vol. III: [New York and Chicago: The American Historical Society, Inc., 1923]: 481-2, accessed June 7, 2012, http://files.usgwarchives.net/wv/tucker/bios/raese.txt).
Cleon Jr. enlisted in the Army Air Corps on March 11, 1942, at Fort Hayes in Columbus, Ohio. U.S. World War II Army Enlistment Records, 1938-1946, show that at the time of his registration, he had completed two years of college; was single, without dependents; and his civilian occupation was in the category of “semiskilled chauffeurs and drivers, bus, taxi, truck, and tractor.” While he received his Silver Wings and commission at Luke Field, Phoenix, Arizona, on January 7 [possibly January 27], 1944, the Preston County Journal (July 13, 1944) reported he had received training at twenty-four army air fields in the U.S. His last base before being sent overseas was at Baton Rouge, Louisiana; his 1944 marriage certificate lists Harding Field as his residence. His first combat assignment (83rd FS—78th FG—8th AF) was in England, where he was sent on May 20, 1944. In a June letter to his parents, Lt. Raese told of having completed eighty missions since arriving in England.
Just prior to his being sent overseas, he married Ruth McVeigh Coffman on April 23, 1944. The Rev. R. Eugene Smith performed the ceremony at St. John’s Lutheran Church in Davis. The daughter of Charles and Alma McVeigh Coffman, Ruth was the same age as Cleon and was a teacher at Terra Alta High School.
Lt. Cleon Raese was killed in action while piloting a Thunderbolt on July 1, 1944. On July 13, the Mineral News-Tribune reported that the Raese family received a telegram indicating the death of their son, but it did not state where his plane went down. However, the Eighth Air Force Historical Society provides the following account of that fateful day:
STRATEGIC OPERATIONS (Eighth Air Force): Mission 449: 323 bombers (78 B-17s and 245 B-24s) and 166 P-51s are dispatched to bomb 14 V-weapon sites in N France but are recalled because of clouds; the recall messages by mistake are not sent to 3 squadrons; 2 of these abort on a decision of the squadron leaders; the other continues on the mission and 9 B-24s bomb a V-weapon site at Mont Louis Ferme; 1 B-24 is lost and 10 are damaged; 1 airman is WIA and 9 MIA; 124 P-51s, relieved of escort duty by the recall of the bombers, claim 5-0-5 Luftwaffe aircraft, 1 P-51 is lost.
82 fighters of a force of 97 P-38s, 169 P-47s and 99 P-51s attack rail and road targets in N France; they claim 3-0-3 Luftwaffe aircraft; 1 P-47 [designation for the Thunderbolt] is lost and 2 damaged beyond repair; 2 pilots are KIA and 2 MIA. 18 B-24s participate in CARPETBAGGER missions in France. (Source: “WWII 8thAAF Combat Chronology: July 1944 through December 1944,” Eighth Air Force Historical Society, accessed May 2, 2012, http://www.8thafhs.org/combat1944b.htm.)
Because Lt. Raese’s service record shows he was a member of the Eighth Air Force, it is quite possible that he was one of the two pilots mentioned as KIA in the second paragraph. While few alive as of this writing (2012) remember Cleon and Donald Raese, niece Peggy V. Raese Liggett notes that within her family, they referred to Cleon as “Uncle June” because he was a junior. According to Peggy, family lore has it that while Cleon’s plane was shot down in combat, Donald’s was struck by lightning. Cleon’s remains were returned to the States, where he was buried with several generations of his family in the Davis, Tucker County, Cemetery. For his service, Lt. Raese received the Purple Heart, among other honors.
Donald Walter Raese
Army Air Corps First Lieutenant Donald Walter Raese was born in Davis, Tucker County, West Virginia, on October 9, 1921, the second son of Cleon Wilson Raese and Salena Matilda Viering Raese. Like his older brother, Cleon, Jr., he attended Tucker County schools; Donald graduated from Davis High School with the class of 1939. Donald too attended Massanutten Military Academy, but later transferred to West Virginia University.
At WVU, Donald was one of three subs on his uncle “Dyke” Raese’s legendary 1942 NIT championship basketball team. Ranked eighth in a highly competitive eight-team tournament, the Mountaineers got off to a good start by beating Long Island 58 to 40 in overtime. They went on to defeat Toledo and ended up facing favored Western Kentucky in the final game at Madison Square Garden. Behind at halftime, West Virginia tied the game at 40-40 with eight minutes left. When Western Kentucky pulled ahead by one point, the Mountaineers tied it again with a free throw. Roger “Shorty” Hicks broke the tie with a foul shot, another player scored a foul shot, and the underdog West Virginia team won it all (47-45). At that time, the NIT tournament determined the national championship, and celebrations broke out in New York and Morgantown.
But the celebrations would be short lived. After all, it was 1942, and team members scattered. While most joined the military, they entered different branches and were sent into combat in various locations. According to U.S. World War II Army Enlistment Records, 1938-1946, Donald registered for the Army Air Corps in the District of Columbia on January 26, 1943. His enlistment record states he had acquired two years of college and was single, without dependents. Although it appears that he made it through the war years unscathed, Lt. Raese lost his life in a training crash in El Paso, Texas, on September 15, 1946. The Parsons Advocate reported on Thursday, September 19, that
Mr. and Mrs. Cleon W. Raese of Davis received word Tuesday [September 17] evening at 6:15 o’clock, that their son, First Lieutenant Donald Walter Raese, 24, had died as the result of an Air Corps “sham battle” at Winks, Texas, near El Paso. . . .
Although details have not been learned concerning the accident, it is believed to have occurred Sunday night, as Lieut. Raese had written his parents, saying that he would be on night maneuvers this week.
Lieut. Raese is the second member of his family to die while serving with the Army Air Corps. A brother, First Lieut. Cleon Raese, Jr., met death July 1, 1944, in an airplane accident in England. Mrs. Raese said that both boys were approximately the same age when they met death. . . .
[Donald] attended Massanutten Military Academy in Woodstock, Va. in 1939 and 1940 where he won letters in football and basketball. . . . [The article goes on to describe his role on the 1942 WVU NIT basketball team.]
Lieut. Raese entered the Army in 1942 and was transferred to the Air Force in January 1944. He won his silver wings as a bomber pilot in August of that year and was commissioned as a second lieutenant. He was later advanced to first lieutenant. He received a citation as the best flier in his graduation class. At the time of his death he was stationed at Lake Charles, La. (“Lieut. Raese Is Victim of Army Airplane Crash,” p.1)
Donald Raese’s remains were returned to West Virginia, where he was buried alongside his brother Cleon in the Davis Cemetery in Tucker County. In this place, he joined several previous generations of his family, where in 1954 and 1971, respectively, his father and mother were laid to rest.
Cleon and Donald Raese were survived by a younger brother, John Viering Raese (“Johnny”), born in 1933. John V. attended WVU and the University of Maryland Dental School and practiced dentistry in West Virginia for many years. Upon his death in 2005, he too was interred in the Davis Cemetery.
Family information provided by Peggy V. Raese Liggett (daughter of John V. Raese and niece of Cleon and Donald), Jeannie Raese (wife of John V. Raese), and Charles Raese (son of Coach “Dyke” Raese). Article by Patricia Richards McClure
West Virginia Archives and History welcomes any additional information that can be provided about these veterans, including photographs, family names, letters and other relevant personal history. For more information contact Constance Baston at (304) 558-0230.
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