There was a time when Lt. Col. Ralph MacClemmy Jr. thought he might not come back from a mission in World War II.
On his 49th mission over Austria, he and his crew were hit by flak and lost two engines at about 20,000 feet and had to hold constant descent over the Alps in order to maintain airspeed. Over the airfield, the third engine went out before they could lower the landing gear, which caused the crew to crash-land off the runway.
The maintenance crew counted more than 300 flak holes.
That was more than 70 years ago.
Now in his 90s, MacClemmy recently was recognized for his service and honored by Acacia Hospice. He received the Air Combat Action Commemorative certificate and medal. In addition, New Jersey Assemblyman Troy Singleton, D-7th of Palmyra, presented a proclamation from the state honoring his service and sacrifice.
Pat Concannon, volunteer coordinator at Acacia Hospice off Jacksonville Road, said the organization wanted to do something special for MacClemmy since he was scheduled to go on an Honor Flight to Washington, D.C., in June but because of declining health was unable to accompany 100 other veterans to see the National WWII Memorial and other monuments in the nation's capital.
The Honor Flights are an annual trip to Washington and are free to veterans. They started in Ohio and Indiana, and veterans from New Jersey take luxury buses. There is a branch of Honor Flights in Williamstown, Gloucester County, affiliated with Williamstown High School that conducts fundraising for the trips.
Every veteran going to D.C. has a guardian who pays $75 to accompany him or her.
"It's a beautiful reception that all the veterans get," Concannon said. The veterans get to tell their stories and feel the gratitude of their country. "It's just a joyous celebration."
She said MacClemmy was vibrant until he suffered a stroke a couple of years ago, and is why he is staying at the Masonic Home of New Jersey, which is affiliated with Acacia Hospice.
Acacia is a nonprofit hospice provider operating under the Masonic Charity Foundation of New Jersey.
"He's just a dynamic individual," Concannon said. "He's just a true, proud American."
MacClemmy's daughter, Carol Parsons, said her dad is generous and caring.
"He is the type of man who just cares about everyone," she said.
Parsons recalled when her father would dress up like Santa Claus for her classes when she taught school.
"He wouldn't just go in and 'Ho, ho, ho,' " she said. "He always had a message for the children."
His messages usually were things like charging the students with listening to their parents or teachers and doing their homework.
After 25 years of service in 1966, MacClemmy retired from the Air Force and became a mailman.
A "true gentleman," Parsons said, her dad would carry lollipops for kids and bones for dogs on his route.
"He's amazing," she said.
"I just think it was remarkable to honor him and to thank him for his years of service while he is still living," Parsons said. "How lucky is that?"
MacClemmy was born in Philadelphia in 1921. He enlisted in the Air Force in 1940, when he graduated from the Casey Jones School of Aeronautics in Newark and became an aviation cadet in January 1941.
MacClemmy was trained on B24s and picked up the first B24J and flew to join the 15th Air Force in Italy. He was the first replacement crew assigned to the 777th bomb squadron and second crew to complete missions.
His first mission was in May 1944 over Austria, and his last was in August that year. His crew completed 51 missions in three months.
MacClemmy was awarded the Air Force Commendation Medal, four Distinguished Flying Crosses, five Air Medals, the Purple Heart, two Presidential Citations, and numerous other medals.
Despite her father's accolades, Parsons, who attended last month's ceremony with most of her family, said he remains humble.
"He would be so proud to wear his World War II hat, but he would always say that 'I'm not really a hero,' " she said. " 'The true heroes are those that aren't with us today, and don't ever forget that.' "