When a Kansan who flew World War II combat missions with the famed Flying Tigers died in November, there wasn’t time for a family scattered across the country to gather to honor their hero.
Eldon Mace died just four days past his 90th birthday and was buried in his hometown of St. John. But at 2 p.m. Saturday, the family will gather at McConnell Air Force Base’s Dole Center for a military-style memorial service.
“We wanted to take time to do it right,” said Steve Mace, a son who served with the Marines in Vietnam. “I’m not sure if he expected us to do it.
“But for his three children, there was no other choice.”
Steve Mace traveled from California, while his brother, Bob, came from Florida and his sister, Suzanne Tresko, came from Spokane, Wash. Bob, a retired Navy commander, made the arrangements to have the service at McConnell.
Eldon’s widow, Clara, who will be 90 next month, will attend along with numerous other relatives.
In the meantime, the family is enjoying sharing stories about Eldon and what he told them about World War II.
“He would have told me more, if only I’d asked,” Steve Mace said.
The Flying Tigers helped defend China against invading Japanese forces. At the same time, the Chinese nationals and communists were fighting each other. Eldon was a fighter pilot for the Flying Tigers in 1944 and recorded three confirmed kills, Steve said.
Shortly after tagging his third kill, his plane was hit and he had to bail out. But before his parachute opened, he crashed into the tail section, cracking two ribs, chipping a tooth and permanently splitting a little finger, Steve said.
He floated down to a river where a firefight between Chinese nationals and communists was taking place.
“They both liked him,” Steve said, “because he was fighting the Japanese.”
The nationals reached him first and hauled him into their boat. It would be more than 130 days before they could get him back to American forces because they had to dodge the Japanese.
When the Korean War erupted, Eldon was called back to service with the Air Force. He trained other pilots stateside.
“Much to his annoyance,” Steve said. “He was a fighter pilot. He wanted to go back over.”
Eldon did a variety of things after the wars, including working as a mechanical engineer in San Jose, Calif.
“He was very mellow, a very logical thinking, engineering type,” Steve said. “You couldn’t fool him with stuff.”