As a young boy, when Clarence Francis heard an airplane fly by, he ran outside and stared as it soared through the sky. He hollered, “Give me a ride!” His fascination with airplanes clearly began at a young age.
Clarence joined the United States Air Force in 1941. He stayed at Fort Snelling in St. Paul, Minnesota, for about a week before being sent to Jefferson Barracks Military Post near St. Louis, Missouri. for basic training. After six weeks, he went to Biloxi, Mississippi, for airplane mechanics school.
Following graduation, the majority of the class, including Clarence, became flight instructors. They were sent to Chanute Air Force Base, south of Chicago, Illinois, to learn how to teach. Next, he returned to Biloxi to begin teaching others.
He taught for a year and then had the opportunity to become cadet, which allowed him to take training and become a pilot. Clarence loved flying his own plane.
“It was a dream,” he explained.
Clarence, 98, served in the Air Force until 1946. He had hoped to receive his commercial pilot license but he didn’t have enough flying hours.
Today, Clarence has found a home at The Lutheran Home: Belle Plaine.
Because of his veteran status, he recently had the opportunity to fly in a World War II era biplane. This experience was made possible by the Ageless Aviation Dreams Foundation, a non-profit organization founded in 2011 to honor U.S. military veterans living in long-term care facilities. The biplane was a 1942 Boeing Stearman, which had been used to train military aviators in the 1940s. Each veteran enjoyed a 20-minute ride.
“I had a hard time getting into the plane, one leg at the time,” Clarence explained, “But the ride was so enjoyable.”
Clarence is only one of 80 veterans currently residing in a TLHA care community. In our 120th year of caring for souls, we are honoring both our veteran residents and team members. Our history begins with one family’s loss during the Civil War. A 15-year-old Ernst Boessling from Belle Plaine volunteered to serve with the Minnesota troops. He died in September of 1863 in service to his country at Vicksburg, Mississippi.
His mother, Sophie, had saved the government death benefits she received all the years after Ernst died. Wanting to provide a home for others like herself, she donated the money and her family’s farmland to build das Alten und Waisenheim—the Aged and Orphans’ Home. Now more than a century later, Sophie’s gift continues to benefit countless lives.
TLHA has active senior living, assisted living and memory care communities in Belle Plaine Minnesota, and River Falls, Fountain City, and Watertown, Wisconsin. Looking for a place to call home? Visit www.tlha.org/communities.