Meet one of Munds Park’s originals, Clarence Brady, who just celebrated his 101st birthday!
Living to be 101 years old is either good luck or good genes, either way, it’s a big deal. After hearing some of Brady’s stories, I would say it was more than chance; it was an angel by his side.
Brady grew up during the Great Depression. As a young man, he remembers difficult and worrisome times and how all Americans, no matter their age, had to chip in and do their part.
After Brady graduated high school in 1939, he joined the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), a work relief program that gave millions of young men employment on environmental projects during the Depression. The CCC helped shape the national and state park systems we enjoy today.
Brady said wildfires were burning out of control because the forest floors were filled with dry leaves and branches that fuel fires when lightning strikes. That was his main job, to clear the forest floor. He also learned to build structures, flagstone porches, walkways, and retaining walls throughout our National Parks. He earned $30 per month and sent $25 home to his family, keeping only $5 for himself. He took pride in his work and had the honor of helping his family during the Great Depression.
Coming out of the CCC, Brady was the batting coach for a boys baseball team out of Williamsport, PA. Only 4 teams were competing in 1941, but it would grow and come to be known as “Little League Baseball”. Brady remembers the founder of Little League baseball, Carl E. Stotz, watching them practice.
Brady’s true passion was flying. As a matter of fact, he learned to fly before he learned to drive! It was his passion for aviation that Brady’s brother Jake encouraged him to enlist in the Airforce. You see, the Japanese had attacked Pearl Harbor, and Jake was immediately drafted. Brady’s brother thought it was better to choose your destination during the draft rather than leave it to chance.
During this time, Brady was working an intricate lathe in a factory in Williamsport, PA. Because of his expertise, he acquired a full deferment from the war. Brady could have stayed home, but he’s a patriot and felt the call to duty. He enlisted and began training to become a fighter pilot in the United States Air Force. He was only 23 years old.
After a year and a half of military flying school in aircrafts such as the P-40, he became an Officer. He received his Aviation Wings in June of 1944.
Second Lieutenant Clarence Brady is now a WWII American fighter pilot, flying the new and powerful P-51 from 1943 to 1945. He is deployed in the South Pacific on a small island, Ei Shima. He flies almost 50 missions dropping bombs over Japan.
Brady described what it was like flying the P-51. He said the plane’s cockpit was small and that he could hardly move. There was just enough room to maneuver the joystick and manage the plane’s controls. He flew in cramped quarters for 6 hours, 3 of which he would have two 500 pound bombs resting on each side of the aircraft or three small bombs on each side that he would deploy over his targets in Japan. Brady explained that the P-51 didn’t have autopilot technology and that it was him, and him alone, flying the plane hundreds of miles each way.
He remembers one account when his plane ran out of fuel just before landing. Brady was approaching a cliff, and the engine kept sputtering and cutting out! He pulled hard on the joystick causing him to blackout. When he came to, he found himself in the clouds and thought, “Is this what heaven is like?” He discovers he is still climbing straight up and is in grave danger. With incredible skill and maybe a little angelic support, Brady safely landed his plane.
While Brady was flying missions over the Pacific, he, like everyone else, was left in the dark about America’s plan to drop the Atomic bomb on Hiroshima. He and his squadron were flying back from a mission when they saw a bright flash of light. One of them remarks, “Look! It looks like the sun is rising!” Another in the squadron responds, “The sun doesn’t rise in the west!” After landing, they find out they witnessed the Atomic bomb. So coming back from their next mission, they took a detour and flew low over the bombed site, unknowingly flying through damaging radiation, trying to comprehend the devastating aftermath.
I asked Brady how he felt about his missions and the war. He said he had to block it out. He knew each mission left behind massive destruction, killing hundreds. He said he was lucky. He was in the air, removed from the sight of the pain and devastation.
A few times, Brady had to stop to compose himself as he reflected on his service.
The war ended and Brady returned home to live in Williamsport, PA, where he attended art classes at a Technical School. One evening, after a few beers, Brady and a friend decided to go to the local YWCA Dance.
There he meets a young woman who immediately catches his eye, Miss Jean Peeling, and she is dancing up a storm.
She will be the love of his life — A love that has lasted 70 years.
For me, this was a special part of our interview. I am not sure I can find the words to describe the love between these two. As they reminisced about their life together, they exchanged sweet smiles, had moments of laughter, and would hold each other’s hand as they held back tears of gratitude. They understand their gift of true love, and they cherish it.
Their life together was filled with a lot of love and hard, hard work. Brady returned to civilian life as an illustrator for Sears and Roebuck—a job he really loved. However, it didn’t last long.
When America joined the Korean War to aid South Korea, Brady was recalled back into service. Because of his experience as a fighter pilot, the Air Force needed him to watch the Canadian/American border for unauthorized aircraft at the radar site. He literally had to identify every aircraft flying into American airspace from the ground.
The stakes were high. Russia had the atomic bomb, and America wasn’t going to be caught off guard again. It was Brady’s job, along with his fellow servicemen, to ensure they didn’t enter our air space.
After the Korean War, Brady stayed in the Air Force for a total of 27 years.
Brady has a long record of serving our country. Do you know who else does? His family. Military families have to be strong and resilient, and the Brady family was just that.
When Brady was in active duty in the Air Force, it was at a time when the military family moved with the service member. If the family couldn’t or didn’t want to move overseas, they had to move off base and find housing of their own. Today, families can stay on the base while their hero is stationed overseas.
Jean remembered a time when Brady got transferred, and they had to move quickly. They owned their home and Brady left for his new assignment leaving it to Jean to sell the house, pack their belongings, and move with two children and a newborn in tow. She was stressed, to put it mildly. She never sold a home before and had to do it fast. Think about it. Women didn’t really do those things in 1961. Feeling overwhelmed, she shared her concerns with the lawyer who was selling the house. He told her to pull herself together and get moving, and that’s precisely what she did.
Military life requires a great deal of hard work, planning, and ingenuity. After Jean sold the house and was ready to move, she didn’t know how to manage a newborn driving across the country. “Well, That’s easy, said Brady!” He made the first-ever, so we think, car seat. He constructed a bassinet out of wood that snuggly rested between the driver and passenger seats, making it easier for Jean to tend to the baby.
Because they moved so much, Brady made makeshift beds for the kids in the back of the sedan. He designed sleeping areas made of wood for each child in the back seat of the car. To keep the children warm, he connected hoses to the heat vents in the front of the car and ran them to the back so his little ones could be kept nice and warm.
As you can imagine, the Brady’s, like all military families, have many stories of pulling together, working hard, and getting things done. It’s clear that when someone serves our country, their family does too.
Brady’s last Military base was Luke Air Force Base in Arizona, where he retired with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in 1970. The family moved to Litchfield Park and Brady became a 5th grade teacher at El Mirage Elementary School in 1972. Imagine a fighter pilot as your teacher — What a great role model for children. I imagine that’s why Brady was given the students that needed a strong teacher and mentor. He taught for fifteen years before retiring...again.
One summer day in 1968, Brady decided to take his wife and their three children, Susan, Mark, and Michael, up north on a family picnic to escape the valley’s heat.
They took the 1-17 North and exited 322 knowing nothing of Munds Park. It was a beautiful area, but back in 1968, there wasn’t much there. They could see the Pinewood Clubhouse and golf course, but little other development. There were many empty lots, a few cabins, and a small real estate office, Pinewood Realty.
Driving up toward the National Forest, the family found a nice place for a picnic. They wanted to enjoy the cool pines and fresh air but were soon told to leave because they were on private land — a lot that was for sale. So they drove into the National Forest and had their family picnic. They enjoyed the area so much that by the time lunch was over, Brady and Jean decided that Munds Park was the place for them.
Before heading home, they made a trip to the realty office and purchased that very lot! That same year Brady builds a picnic table on their land to enjoy many picnics to come.
A few years later, they buy a second lot. Brady builds the cabin himself with a kit and help from family and friends. He constructs the fireplace by himself, using flagstone and cement, a masonry skill he learned decades ago in the CCC. So we come full circle. Brady and the family love their cabin in Munds Park, which is a true labor of love.
It is where the Brady family lives today.