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Don Craddock honored at Friday Harbor Airport

Franklin terminal at Friday Harbor Airport was filled with family, friends and community members Sunday afternoon as they gathered for the equal part moving and humorous ceremony inducting Don Craddock into the San Juan Aviation Museum.

Don flew 35 missions as a B-17 pilot during his 14-month stint in the U.K. during World War II. The average for a B-17 pilot at that time was six missions before being shot down. (The text from the display is posted below.)

The San Juan Aviation Museum, a joint effort between the San Juan Pilots Association and the Port of Friday Harbor, features a different pilot every year. The museum records the history of aviation in the San Juan Islands since the early years after World War II when Roy Franklin first established scheduled air service linking San Juan Island with the mainland.

Dr. John Geyman, who was the honoree last year, told the group about Don's history and introduced the couple.

Don and B.J. Craddock, who celebrated their 90th birthdays and 70th wedding anniversary in 2015, spoke after unveiling the wall display. 

Don said, "This is about the  most wonderful experience of my life."

B.J. said, "Don was a reluctant candidate for this honor. He had about a month to think about it and this morning he was going to go to Orcas but I caught him before he went." 

 

"I fell in love with her when I first met her in high school," Don said. "I didn't let her out of my sight from then on. The thing I really loved about her, she was willing to do almost anything. She would go duck hunting with me. In fact on one trip we had to jump across these little sloughs that were ice-covered. I took off to the blind. She was trying to follow me and she jumped right in the slough. She was up to her armpits. That was the end of that junket. She would go ice-skating with me late at night."

B.J. interjected, "That was romantic."

"And she was a wonderful mother to our four kids.  I can never thank her enough for that," Don said.
"You want to say anymore?" 

"You're welcome," she said. 

Several people spoke about Don, including Ary Hobbel and Jonathan Taylor. 

Ary Hobbel speaking to Don Craddock before the ceremony.

Ary Hobbel said, "Seventy years ago Don and I may have seen each other though neither of us was aware of that.  I lived right against the southern banks of the three rivers that cross the Netherlands. I saw them come over. Large swarms of them, smaller swarms going back.  A public and a very private thank you, Don. Congratulations." 

Jonathon Taylor grew up in the 1950s in the U.K. around the war damage, he said,  "Everyone from my generation and a lot of people around the U.K.  owe Don and the flyers a huge amount of gratitude for the work they did in 1941-1945. I just want to say thank you.  You really really changed the world back then. It would be a much worse place without your efforts."


Don Craddock

Don Craddock was born in 1924 on the high plains in Pueblo, Colorado. He graduated from high school there in 1942, just a few months after Pearl Harbor. Like so many of his classmates, he soon joined the military, signing up with the Air Force Reserve. Just six months later, while a freshman at Colorado State College, he was called up for active duty. He was sent to Missouri for boot camp, where he was selected for pilot training.

Don's first flights were in Piper Cubs in Morehead, Minnesota followed by training in Stearman biplanes in Scottsdale, Arizona. Then on to Merced, California flying twin-engine Bamboo Bombers. He hoped to fly fighters, but since there was a greater need for bomber pilots at the time, he soon found himself at Langley Field in Virginia flying B-17 G Flying Fortresses.

Just days before his squadron was to be shipped out to England, Don married Betty Jane, his childhood sweetheart from Pueblo, in a ceremony conducted by the Base Chaplain on July 18, 1944 with all of his crew in attendance.

The squadron then flew their new B-17s to Wales via Bangor, Maine; Goose Bay, Labrador; and Reykjavik, Iceland. They were met there by another crew, who flew the airplanes on to Framingham, England, their base for the next 14 months. As was the custom among bomber pilots, Don named their airplane "Embraceable You," his and Betty Jane's favorite song. 

Typical bombing missions involved 36 B-17s. Due to the limited fuel capacity of the fighters, protection was available only part way during the earlier missions. B-17 crews at that time could expect to fly only six missions before being shot down.  Defying the odds, Don's crew survived 35 missions especially targeting bridges, railroads and munitions factories.

At war's end, Don was honored with membership in the Lucky Bastards Club.

 

 

 

After the war, Don finished college at Colorado State. He went on to become a fisheries research biologist, working in Washington State with the Fisheries and Wildlife Service, which later became NOAA. Don and Betty Jane raised their four children - Cyndy, Mark, Jeff and Scott- in the Seattle area before moving to San Juan Island in 1980. The couple has two daughters-in-law and three grandchildren. 

Don returned to flying in 1977, first in a Cessna 172, then in their favorite airplane, a Beechcraft Debonair, which they owned for more than 20 years. Together they enjoyed many flights around the islands and the western states, with Betty Jane an accomplished navigator and weather buff.

As a member of the United Flying Octogenarians, Don flew regularly until 89 years of age, when he reluctantly saw their trusty Debonair fly off to Palm Springs with its new owner. 

Throughout their retirement years, Don and Betty Jane have been active members of the community, including the San Juan Pilots Association and boating. On June 12, 2014 the couple celebrated their 90th birthdays and their 70th anniversary. 


390th Bombardment Group

During World War II, the 390th Bombardment Group (Heavy) was an Eighth Air Force B-17 Flying Fortress unit in England, stationed at RAF Framlingham. The group flew 300 combat missions with 8,725 sorties. Its last mission was on April 20, 1945. They lost 181 aircraft and 740 airmen were killed during the war.

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