John Clayton Harrington
Colonel John C. Harrington, USAF (Ret.) died on December 17, 2021, in Fort Worth, Texas. He was two months short of his 103rd birthday.
He was born on February 27, 1919 in his mother’s father’s farmhouse outside of Viola, Kansas. He grew up on the Harrington farmland outside of Clearwater, Kansas and in the town of Cambridge, Kansas. As a teenager, during the height of the Great Depression, he would work as a farmhand for an entire summer for room, board and twenty dollars at the end. He learned to plow with a team of horses when he was only 11. His only weekend recreation was semipro baseball. He got so tanned during the summer with his jet black hair that his name in the baseball box scores was “Chief “Harrington, meant then as a compliment. He attended Southwestern College in Winfield, Kansas from 1936-1939. He joined the U.S. Army Air Corps as a flight cadet on Christmas Day 1939. He was assigned to Lincoln Airplane and Flying School, Lincoln, Nebraska. He was at the controls of the first aircraft he ever flew in, an open cockpit biplane. From 1940-1943, he was stationed at Randolph Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas, training to fly four engine bombers. He was so skilled as a pilot that he was ordered to remain at Randolph as an instructor of flight. He rose quickly through the ranks and in 1942 was promoted to Captain and Squadron Commander at the age of 23. From March 1943 – November 1944, he was stationed at Tarrant Field Airdrome, Fort Worth, TX (later Carswell AFB) where he was Squadron Commander, Group Commander, and overall Director of Flying, training pilots for overseas assignment in the European and Pacific theaters of WWII.
From November 1944–August 1945, he flew a B-24/C109 in the China-Burma-India Theater of WWII. Known as the “Hump,” he flew the treacherous route over and through the Himalayan mountains from India to China and back to supply the Chinese war effort and U.S. forces based in China. Crashes were so frequent on the route that it was known to the pilots as the “aluminum highway.” On one of many night flights through the Himalayans, his B-24/C109 loaded with gasoline was twice struck by lightning, knocking out his running and interior lights, his radio, and his cockpit instruments including his compass, airspeed indicator and altimeter. By dead reckoning and prayer, he flew through the mountains in the pitch dark and clouds, his altitude lower than the tallest peaks. He guessed when to descend, flew as low in the mountains as he dared until beginning to pull up, caught a glimpse of light reflecting from a lake at the end of his destined landing strip, cut power and landed his plane safely at his base in China. For the rest of his life, he felt that God had gotten him and his crew through that night. He had a strong, simple faith that was unshaken by adversity.
In January 1946, he was assigned to Lackland AFB and promoted to Lt. Colonel at the age of only 27. He joined the Air Force Reserve in 1946 but was recalled to active duty in 1951. From 1951-1956 he was stationed at Carswell Air Force Base (Strategic Air Command) in Fort Worth, TX, where he was a Squadron Commander of B-36 bombers. He was promoted to full Colonel in 1956 at the age of 37. He retired from active duty and was in the Air Force Reserve until 1979.
Following his active service in the Air Force, Harrington was a commercial pilot from 1956-1983. He was chief pilot for American Flyers charter airline, chief pilot and vice-president of flight for Universal Airlines, Executive Pilot for the Western Company, and Executive Pilot for Williams & Dickey. He flew more than 40 types of aircraft in his career. His first plane was a WWI style biplane with an open cockpit. One of his last planes was a DC-8 jumbo airliner carrying 250 passengers. He never crashed a plane and no passenger was ever injured on one of his flights. He flew to every continent but Antarctica. He was one of the pilots who flew the Beatles during their U.S. tour in the 60’s. Lady Bird Johnson chose him to pilot her personal trips. He flew more than 20,000 hours in the left seat. He was in on the ground floor of the aeronautics revolution. He was a pilot’s pilot.
Harrington was a long-time, faithful member of First United Methodist Church Fort Worth and a founding member of the Covenant class. He was an avid golfer, playing well into his 90s, and often teaming with his dear friend, Nell Berry, of San Antonio. He shot his age almost 100 times. He loved to dance. He was one of the best-looking men any woman ever laid eyes on, and also one of the most self disciplined. Extraordinary protoplasm, a healthy diet, abstinence from tobacco, excellent health care, and walking 18 holes of golf three days a week for decades were keys to his active living to almost 103. Until four months before his death, he still lived alone with a minimum of help and drove alone to San Antonio to see his friend Nell every other week. He always had eyes like a hawk. He was never in a car wreck and never received a traffic citation. He was a generous, forgiving man. The only persons his family ever heard him criticize were major league baseball players with long hair. He was intellectually sharp to the very end. He faced death without fear, just as he lived his life, anxious only to see his wife again in heaven. At the end of his life, he became sweeter, more appreciative, and more expressive of his love.
He was preceded in death by his adored wife of 51 years, LeeAnn Brooks Harrington, who died in 1992. He is survived by his daughter Suzanne Harrington Fedoroff of Cambria, California, his son Rev. Brooks Harrington of Fort Worth, Texas, his grandchildren Laine Brock, Jason Brock, Elizabeth-Jackson-Pettine, Dr. Katherine Harrington Dornin, and John Clayton Harrington II, and four great-grandchildren, Lucas, Sarah, Livingston and Harrison.
A memorial service will be held at a later date. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Methodist Justice Ministry.