Colonel (Ret.) Gerhardt Christopher Clementson of the United States Air Force Academy died on Feb. 21, 2018 at the age of 100. He passed away peacefully at his residence, Mapleton Care Center in Lakewood. Clementson was a decorated veteran and recognized as one of the founders of the United States Air Force Academy.
He is survived by his three daughters, Janet and Nora Clementson in Littleton, Barbara and Ron Downing in Puyallup, Wash.; his grandsons Jeff, Justin, Jeremy and Joe Downing, by Justin’s daughter, Alix Downing; his nephews, Conrad Clementson, Ken and Bob Randall and Jim Moore; his nieces, Mercedes Shetter, Elaine Cole, Ginny Moore and Marlene Clementson.
Clem (as his Army buddies called him) was born on May 3, 1917, in Black Earth, Wisc., to Oscar and Clara Sophia (Bragger) Clementson, who proceeded him in death along with his wife EvLynn Clementson.
The start of Clem’s advanced education began at age 17 when he joined the Army to attend the West Point Preparatory School, testing out among the top graduates. As a result of this standing, he was appointed to the United States Military Academy at West Point.
At West Point, Clem enjoyed competing in both hockey and soccer. His lifetime love for horses began when learning to ride horses before the end of the cavalry. His connection with horses was enhanced when “riding to the hounds” at the Arapahoe Hunt with his daughters Barbara and Janet. The hunt was held at Colonel Phipps Ranch, which became known as Highlands Ranch. The Colonel taught all his girls to ride at Lowry Air Force Base and the Air Force Academy.
After graduation in 1942, his military career literally took off as a pilot in the Army Air Corps. During World War II he patrolled the Northwestern Pacific Coast, looking for any sign of Japanese submarines. He also escorted B-17s on bombing missions. His closest call was when he lost both engines in his P-38 while approaching Williams Air Force Base in Arizona. As the Colonel told the story, “[after] finding a clear space to land, the biggest damn boulder I’d ever seen appeared out of nowhere and I smacked right into it.”
He was transferred to a military hospital where it was determined his wounds were not serious but was hit by a bombshell … the good kind — a Scotch-Irish Army Nurse named EvLynn Thrasher. He recalls “she was the nicest looking redhead I’d ever seen!” The Colonel used to brag about the most outrageous part of their courtship was when he brazenly flew a military plane under the Golden Gate Bridge to impress his stowaway girlfriend, EvLynn.
After a whirlwind courtship of only one month, they were secretly married by a Justice of the Peace, against all military war regulations. They were blessed with three daughters Barbara, Janet and Nora. Each child was born in various places while the Clementson clan moved, as military families do.
During his persistent education in the Air Force, he continued by earning a Master of Science in aerodynamics from California Institute of Technology; Master of Science in aeronautical engineering; and a Doctor of Science in instrumentation from Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
In 1945, he served as chief, Fighter Aircraft Systems, the Experimental Flight Test Division. He was promoted to director of Fighter Aircraft Systems, Directorate of Aerospace Armament, Air Force Research and Development Command, in Dayton, Ohio.
In 1955, the Colonel was assigned to Lowry Air Force Base in Denver to participate in the establishment of the United States Air Force Academy near Colorado Springs. He became a professor and head of the Aero and Thermodynamics Department, where he undertook the development of the Wind Tunnel Lab, which became known as “Clem’s Foley”.
After retirement from the Air Force in 1961, the Colonel accepted a position with North American Aviation in Downey, Calif. He served as director of Aerospace Technology, Space and Information Systems Division and was the technical director of the Apollo Project.
Returning to Denver he began a new job as a professor of Computer and Management Science at Metropolitan State College. After serving as the department chairman and helping to create a strong Information Systems program he retired a second time. After his “final retirement”, Clem consulted in a micro-computer business he developed.
He enjoyed teaching so much, he accepted a contract to teach Air Force personnel in the (then) new language of COBOL.
The Colonel continued his life by spending time with EvLynn, Rotary and golfing. The Rotarians considered him as a rare gift. Seldom does one come into contact with a person exhibiting such a positive outlook, regardless of circumstances. His smile was infectious and genuine. I guess you could say that Clem embodied the “Four Way Test” of Rotary; 1. Is it the truth? 2. Is it fair to all concerned? 3. Will it build goodwill and better friendship? 4. Will it be beneficial to all concerned?
Colonel Clementson, in the truest sense of the word, was an officer, a scholar, and most of all a gentleman to all. A better example could seldom be found today. He gave of himself unselfishly and dedicated his life to only the worthiest of causes for the betterment of his community and country. His understanding, acceptance and wry humor were both a balm for ragged nerves and a boost for the spirits of those he engaged with.
The memorial for Clementson will be held March 13 at 11:00 a.m. at Bethany Lutheran Church, 4500 E. Hampden Ave. in Cherry Hills Village. The interment will follow at Ft. Logan National Cemetery at 2:15 p.m. with Military Honors.
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