11/9/2017 3:00:00 PM Clarence Blodgett: Switzerland County's oldest living veteran
Clarence Blodgett points his finger to the west as he sits in his chair in his home on Bennington Pike.
"I was born about a mile and a half up the road," he says. "I didn't get too far away."
But between the home where he was born to Charles and Pearl (Stout) Blodgett, the sixth of seven boys - Clarence covered a great deal of distance.
Born on August 22nd, 1918, the 99-year old Blodgett is believed to be the oldest living Switzerland County veteran.
Clarence enlisted in the Army Air Corps at Fort Knox in Kentucky in 1942. He attended basic training in Biloxi, Mississippi, hoping to learn about mechanics, so he would have a skill once he got out of the service.
"The mosquitoes down there had a fight over whether they would eat you there or take you back home," Clarence laughed.
Enlisting because he wanted to fight for his country, Clarence was assigned to the 34th Air Depot Group, Headquarters Squadron, where he served much of his time as a driver for officers and other military VIPs. It was an assignment that took him all over the country and the world.
After he completed his basic training, he was sent to Buffalo, New York for P-40 school (Curtiss Warhawk aircraft), where he remembered wading through two feet of snow to get to the shower house.
Once he was finished in the snow of Buffalo, Clarence was then transferred to California - the 'high desert' he calls it - where he saw huge orange groves and experienced warm days, but very chilly nights.
"I saw them smoking the orange groves and had fires going to keep the oranges from freezing," he recalled. "And we needed a pretty warm blanket, because it got cold at night."
From there it was to headquarters in another area of California; and then it was back across the country to the East Coast - this time to ship out overseas for Europe.
"We shipped out of New York and went to Italy on a big ship," he remembered. "We went through the Strait of Gibralter and landed first in Casablanca, Africa. Then we went from Casablanca to Sicily, and from there to Italy."
In Sicily he was sent with a small detachment to rescue a British airman whose plane crashed into a mountainside. The airman was the only member of the flight crew to survive the crash.
"When we got to the top of the mountain, we were in the clouds, that's how high we were," Clarence said. "I was on the alert crew. The guy was a tail gunner. A half a dozen of us went up there and carried him down to the hospital."
Once in Italy, Clarence drove officers all over the country, again giving him the opportunity to see many historic sites.
"I saw the Leaning Tower of Pisa," he said. "I smelled Naples. We were up and down that entire country. I never got to France - I always wanted to get to France."
His assignment kept him out of heavy fighting, but there was one instance when his base was shelled.
"We knew we were going to be shot at. We were all in the barracks of an evening, and the commanding officer made us fall out and line up," Clarence said, smiling. "That was all right when you think about it. He wanted to make sure that everybody was out of the barracks in case it got hit. It always tickled me that the next morning, the Sergeant said, 'I didn't line up, I was hunting a hole'. When a shell come, you didn't have time to think too much."
Clarence remembers clearly the end of the war.
"I was in Italy, and we were on a ship headed for the Panama Canal and Japan," he said. "We heard the news and they just turned the ship and headed towards New York. We got to see the Statue of Liberty as we came in. It was a welcome sight, I'll tell you that much."
Clarence was then shipped home, and he was discharged at Fort Benjamin Harrison in Indianapolis.
As a young man on Bennington Pike, Clarence met a young girl named Nettie, and after awhile she and her family moved to the Indianapolis area. Once he left school (Clarence was honored as the oldest living alumni at this year's Vevay High School alumni meeting), he moved to Indianapolis and took a job, and it was there that he reunited with Nettie.
"We were close, I don't believe we were engaged at the time, but I think I asked her to wait for me," Clarence said. "I didn't want to marry her before I left, because if something happened, I didn't want her to be alone."
The couple got married shortly after he was discharged, and remained together until Nettie passed away on January 20th, 2013.
So, from Bennington Pike to Mississippi to New York, then California, back to New York, a troop ship through the Strait of Gibralter to North Africa, Sicily, and Italy; then back in a ship headed to Japan - Clarence Blodgett has seen a lot of the world for a Switzerland County boy.
"I have truly seen a lot," he said. "I always said that no matter where I was, the Lord was with me. I saw a lot of country."