Author and military historian John Haile Cloe, 78, passed away at his Lower Hillside home on Dec. 26, 2016, after a brief illness. His wife, Susan, and family were at his side.
Born in Fredericksburg, Va., John graduated from Virginia Military Institute in 1963, and went on to serve 29 years in the U.S. Army. He served two tours of combat duty with U.S. and South Vietnamese Infantry units in Vietnam, then became an Air Force civilian historian and retired as a colonel in the U.S. Army Reserves in 1992. His many writings include a series of highly regarded military history books.
When Virginia Military Institute was notified of his passing, a VMI official said: "John was the most decorated member of his class," an aspect of his distinguished career that the unassuming man never mentioned. Among his honors John received 10 Air Force level awards and was the Alaska Historical Society's Alaska Historian of the Year in 1992. He won the society's Pathfinder Award in 1988 and the American Aviation Historical Society's Author of the Year Award in 2004.
John won the Air Force Wing Historian of the Year Awards in 1976 and 1994. In 2003, Brig. Gen. Robertus Remkes cited John for 40 years of dedicated service to the nation. He was also awarded the Air Force Association's Exceptional Service Award and two Medals of Merit for his documentation of Air Force history in Alaska.
John's books include "Top Cover for America: The Air Force in Alaska," published in 1984; "The Aleutian Warriors, a History of the Eleventh Air Force and Fleet Air Wing Four," which was a comprehensive book about the Alaska Theater of World War II published in 1992; and "Mission to the Kurils," an account of the arduous but little-known World War II air and sea operations by American bomber crews against the Japanese Home Islands from Alaska's Aleutian Islands. "Mission to the Kurils" was published in 2016.
He also wrote a book about one of the projects he championed, the recovery and restoration of a P38 fighter plane from a crash site in Temnak Valley on Attu Island. The book was entitled "Saving The Lightning." The restored fighter is now on display at the Elmendorf Aviation Historical Park on Joint Base Elmendorf Richardson. John's friend, military colleague and fellow author Ted Spencer, retired executive director of the Alaska Aviation Heritage Museum, said John Cloe was a champion for the military heritage in Alaska.
John also wrote a book, "Attu, the Forgotten Battle," which will be published by the National Park Service in support of the National Historic Monument on Attu Island, which is owned and managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Over the years John produced more than 40 histories and studies, many of them classified, covering the Cold War in Alaska.
In a review about "Mission to the Kurils" by Mike Dunham of the Alaska Dispatch News, Dunham noted that the 2016 book was the first history of the little-known war fought by American bomber crews flying from Aleutian air bases to attack targets in the Japanese Home Islands. In a news article about his passing, Dunham wrote that John's "encyclopedic knowledge of the military history of Alaska made him the leading expert on World War II in the territory."
In 1970, John was stationed at the Infantry School at Fort Benning, Ga., and, John told Dunham, the air conditioning broke so he "put in for a cooler assignment." John drove to Alaska via the unpaved Alaska Highway with his late wife, Cay, and was assigned as a historian at Elmendorf Air Force Base, a position he held until 2006. He made Alaska his home for the rest of his life.
John was widowed twice. His first wife, Harriet Catherine "Cay" Hill, passed away in 1992. He then met Jane Slisco and they were married in 1995. Jane died in 2008. John found love a third time with Susan and the two were married in 2011.
John's lifelong commitment to the military and its history led him and Susan to visit battlefields around the world. Three of the last four summers he guided groups of World War II history buffs on tours of sites of historic significance in the Aleutian Islands.
John was a member of the board of directors of the Alaska Humanities Forum and the Alaska Historical Commission and an elder at St. Mary's Episcopal Church in Anchorage. He was active in the Air Force Association and the Eleventh Air Force Association, a group of World War II veterans who served in the Aleutians. He was also a private pilot and avid climber, reaching the highest point in 49 of the 50 states, missing only Denali in Alaska. (He attempted to climb both Denali and Mt. Everest but fell ill and was forced to abort both climbs.)
John is survived by his wife, Susan; stepdaughters and stepsons, Cynthia (Cindy) and Dan Ryynanen of Maple Valley, Wash., Christina (Andrews) and Rob Jennings of Napa, Calif., and Toms and Kelly Andrews, Christian and Leslie Andrews and Christopher and Kelly Andrews, all of Anchorage; and step-grandchildren, Lucas and Tyler Ryynanen and Susannah and Isabel Jennings, Claire and Gage Andrews, Polly-Faye Andrews and Lily and Sophia Andrews.
Funeral services will be held at St. Mary's Episcopal Church at 3 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 21, 2017, followed by a celebration of life in Waldron Hall at the church. In lieu of flowers, please make donations in memory of John to St. Mary's Episcopal Church, 2222 East Tudor Road, Anchorage, AK 99507.
Arrangements are with Janssen's Evergreen Memorial Chapel.
Published by Anchorage Daily News on Jan. 8, 2017.