Seventy-one years after their World War II service in the Army Air Forces, identical twins, retired Air Force Reserve Majs. Raymond "Glenn" Clanin and Russell "Lynn" Clanin, received the French government's highest distinction — the Legion of Honor medal.
The Clanins were born in Bismarck in April 1923, growing up there and in nearby Farmington as part of a family of nine children — six boys and three girls. At an early age the twins worked hard to help support their large family during the Depression. They worked both at a bowling alley and an auto parts store.
The twins were drafted into the U.S. Army in May 1943 at Jefferson Barracks and there began virtually identical military careers that eventually led to the honor they received for their service to the French people.
During an award ceremony held Dec. 2 with family and friends at the Schriever Space Complex of the Space and Missile Systems Center in El Segundo, California, the Bismarck natives were honored by Maj. Gen. Robert D. McMurry, Jr., SMC vice commander, and Christophe Lemoine, the French consul general in Los Angeles.
"On behalf of Los Angeles Air Force Base, I'm particularly proud for our ability to host this event," McMurry said. "The Legion of Honor has been bestowed upon quite a number of World War II veterans. It's a reminder of the service that they performed and a reminder of the ties that we have between our countries that go back to the Revolutionary War with our first ally.
"We have here two identical twins who married twins. At times, piloted the same aircraft, 'Flak-Bait,' which currently is being restored by the Smithsonian, and today, over 70 years later, they are getting identical medals — which seems appropriate to me," McMurry said. "We're proud to be a part of the ceremony."
The Clanin brothers flew the Martin B-26 Marauder named Flak-Bait on several missions with the 449th Bombardment Squadron, 322nd Bomb Group, known as "The Annihilators," while stationed in Beauvais, France. Glenn completed 26 missions while Lynn completed 21 missions in the twin-engine medium bomber.
Flak-Bait completed 207 operational missions: 202 bombing runs and five decoy runs, representing the largest number of operational missions of any American aircraft during WWII. The aircraft is on display in the Mary Baker Engen Restoration Hangar at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia.
"Attending a ceremony for the Legion of Honor is always a very special moment and always a very touching moment,” Lemoine said. “It's even more special and even more touching today because we honor two brothers that have been tied together all their lives and that are with us together today. It is also a special moment because of the times after the attacks in Paris makes us think that we should really not forget the achievement of these men for democracy, which is still something we have to fight for.
"So it's a very special day for me as the consul general of France in Los Angeles, because I'm here to express the gratitude of the people of France to all Americans and Allied veterans of the Second World War and especially, two exceptional people, Raymond 'Glenn' Clanin and Russell 'Lynn' Clanin. As young men, they left their homes to fight and liberate not only France, but the whole European continent and defend democracy and human rights," Lemoine said.
After the war, Lynn moved to California and in 1948 married his wife, Elyn, in a joint ceremony with his brother Glenn who married Elyn's sister, Carolyn. In their civilian lives, the brothers lived next to each other for 10 years in Manhattan Beach, California, working in their dry cleaning business until the Korean War.
At that point, Lynn transitioned into aircraft manufacturing and in 1960 moved to Concord, California, where he worked in real estate before eventually retiring in 1978 as a service representative from the local water district. He remained in the Air Force Reserve, retiring as a major in 1983. Lynn and his late wife Elyn's family include two sons, two grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.
After Lynn moved up north, Glenn worked in the savings and loan industry where he retired in 1985. He also remained in the Air Force Reserve, retiring as a major in 1983. Glenn currently serves as adjutant for Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2075 in Hawthorne, California. He and Carolyn still reside in Manhattan Beach and their family includes two daughters, two grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.
"Their accomplishments during the war are a vibrant reminder of the deep friendship between the United States and France," Lemoine told the audience. "A friendship bound in blood and hardships, ever since the War of Independence.
"From the glorious days of Yorktown to the green battlefields of Château-Thierry; from the beaches of Normandy to the mountains of Afghanistan, our countries have been fighting together, side by side. And freedom is a gift that doesn't come free. It often requires determination and sacrifices.
“And once again, following the recent terrorist attacks in Paris, we are so very grateful for our American friends who have shown and continue to show their immense support and sympathy for the French people and I would like to thank you all for that.”
Turning his attention directly to the 92-year-old brothers seated in front of the audience with the U.S. and French flags as a backdrop, Lemoine addressed the two veterans personally.
"Dear gentlemen, the French would never forget that you helped restore their freedom," he said. "Your courage and your dedication is an example to us all. You're examples of 'the greatest generation,' which faced the despair and deprivation of the Great Depression, went on to fight for liberty and freedom during the second world war, rebuilt Europe and Japan and invented a freer and more democratic world after the war. You remind us that, no matter how great the challenge, it can be met when honest men and women stand up with determination and courage."
The National Order of the Legion of Honor is an order of distinction first established by Napoléon Bonaparte in 1802. It is the highest decoration bestowed in France. Foreign nationals who have served France or the ideals it upholds may receive a distinction from the Legion of Honor. To be awarded the medal, a service member must be nominated and had risked their life during WWII fighting in one of the four main campaigns of the Liberation of France: Normandy, Provence, Ardennes, or Northern France.
Today, there are approximately 95,000 recipients of the Legion of Honor.