Paris Hodge Fleming, Jr.

Paris Hodge Fleming, Jr. Paris Hodge Fleming, Jr., 777th
30 July 2009

Paris Hodge Fleming, Jr. passed away 30 July 2009.  He was born on 5 May 1923 to Paris Hodge Fleming, Sr. and Dovie Fielden Fleming.  He graduated from Rule High School in 1941.  He worked for the Alcoa Aluminum Company prior to enlisting in the Army Air Corps.  He eventually retired from the Maremont Corp.

Paris volunteered for service during World War II.  He served as a gunner aboard a B-24 Liberator in the Fifteenth Air Force, in the 464th Bombardment Group's 777th Bomb Squadron.  He was based with the Group in Pantanella, Italy.  His military decorations include an air medal with 3 oak leaf clusters, a purple heart, the presidential unit citation, and the European - African - Middle Eastern Campaign medal with 7 battle stars.

Paris was a member of the Wallace Memorial Baptist Church and the Katherine Fortner Sunday School Class, Powell Masonic Lodge #582 F&A.M., VFW, and the American Legion.

Paris was preceded in death by his parents; his wife of 48 years, Kathleen Petty Fleming; sister, Anna Fleming; and brothers, Clyde and Ralph Fleming.  He is survived by Jean Nichols Miller Fleming; daughter, Kathy Chambers (Julius) of St. Cloud, Fla.; sons, Michael Fleming (Brenda) of Chattanooga, Tenn., and Patrick Fleming (Marilyn) of Memphis, Tenn.; sister, Helen Brooks; brother, Claude Fleming; granddaughters, Karen Guererro and Suzanne Fleming both of Chattanooga, Tenn., and Mae Cordell and Anna Frazier of St. Cloud, Fla.; eight great grandchildren; 1 great-great granddaughter; several nieces and nephews and a host of friends.

The family extends a special thanks to the staff at NHC Knoxville and Caris Hospice for the loving care provided to Paris.  Memorial services were held at the Mynatt Funeral Home in Fountain City.  Rev. Kent Williams and Rev. Earl Wilson officiated.  Family and friends met at Highland Memorial Cemetery for interment.  Honorary pallbearers were Mike Nichols, Patrick Nichols, Jeremy Frazier, Austin Cordell, Zachary Samples, and Gary Brooks.

A few notes from Paris' eldest son, Michael

My father was on the the last mission flown by the Fifteenth AAF.  He was also on an aircraft that crash-landed on 15 August 1944.  On page 70, of the book The 464th Bomb Group During World War lI written by Michael Hill and Betty Karle, there is a photo of the plane crash Dad was in.  The A/C serial number was 42-51082.  They were part of Operation Dragoon (pages 76-77), the invasion of Southern France.  I believe this was their third day mission to that specific target when they crashed.

He saw Black-N go down.  It bothered him that they were killed on their last mission.  He said, "That mission was supposed to be a milk run."  He always thought that there were no survivors - until he saw the 464th Bomb Group web site.  [Ed. note: You may download the .PDF file of that event here.]

He told me about another mission over Vienna.  He said that the first wave of planes dropped their bombs.  Anti-aircraft gun fire erupted from the ground.  All of the first wave planes made it out.  My dad was in the second wave.  Sixteen of the 28 Liberators were shot down.  Two crashed before getting back to base.  My dad's plane was shot up so badly that they were directed to land at an abandoned air field.  The crew counted over 300 holes in the plane.

He also told me about a German fighter flying through a B-24 that was right next to Dad's.  This happened on his very first mission.  Talk about a baptism by fire.  On 15 August 1944, his plane crashed shortly after take off.  He was credited for pulling a fellow gunner to safety before the explosion.  All survived with injuries.

I proudly display his Purple Heart in my den.

Like many veterans, my dad volunteered.  Before the war, he was working at the Alcoa Aluminum Company.  He was exempt from military service due to his job being essential to the war effort.  My granny was so upset when he volunteered anyway.

After all, Tennessee is the Volunteer State.

When it was time to come back home, he chose to come back on a Liberty Ship.  I guess he had enough flying.  It was over fifty years before he flew again.  I miss him terribly.  He was a good man.

Mike Fleming

From Paris' eldest son, Michael Fleming

On May 5, 1923, Paris Hodge Fleming, Jr. came into this world.  He was the third child and second son to Paris Hodge Fleming, Sr. and Dovie Jane Fielden Fleming.

I never knew why Uncle Clyde, first-born, was not a Junior.  There were six children – four boys and two girls.  Uncle Claude and Aunt Helen are still with us.

Life in the Fleming household was pretty common for the time.  They struggled as most did.  Times were hard.  My grandfather was grateful to have had a job during the Depression, earning a whopping $17.00 weekly, barely making ends meet.

By 1941, times were getting better.  Daddy landed a job at the Aluminum Company of America at Alcoa, Tenn.  He worked a full-time job while attending Rule High School.  He graduated in 1941.  After graduation, he continued to work as a scale clerk at Alcoa.

Shortly after the war began, my uncle Clyde was inducted into service.  He served as a radio repairman in England with the Eighth Air Force.

My grandmother told me how relieved she was when she received a letter from the plant manager at Alcoa.  The letter stated Daddy would not have to serve in the military because his job was essential to the war effort.

Granny was livid when Daddy and his best friend, Clarence French, volunteered for service two weeks later.  Uncle Ralph and Aunt Helen’s husband, Gordon Brooks, served with the Navy during the war.

Daddy did his basic training at Tyndall Field in Panama City, Fla.  Later he was assigned as a gunnery instructor at a base in Fort Myers, Fla.  Not a bad assignment for World War II.  He could have done just that - spent World War II on a beach in South Florida.  But did he do that?  No!  He volunteered for combat duty in Europe.  When I asked him why he did that, he said, "Young and stupid, I guess."

After additional training, he was off to Europe.  He was to serve as a waist gunner on a B-24 bomber.  He arrived in Italy on June 6, 1944.  That same day there were some things happening on the beaches of Normandy, France.  By the grace of God, Daddy survived 50 combat missions, bombing some of Europe’s hottest targets, including Vienna, Ploesti, Bucharest and many others.

He never mentioned the war until about 20 years ago.  All of a sudden, he opened up and shared many of his experiences with me.  My mother told me for a few years after the war he would have nightmares.  When she would wake him and ask what was the matter, he would say, "Still fightin’ the war, I guess."

He told me about a German fighter flying through a bomber in his formation and taking ten crewmen to their death.  He told me about bombing the rail yards in Vienna one day.  The first wave of bombers dropped their bombs over the target.  Anti-aircraft guns erupted.  None of the first wave planes were hit.  When his formation reached the target, the Germans had zeroed in on the altitude.  Sixteen of the 28 planes were shot down.  Two more did not make it back to base.  By far, the very worst day for the Fifteenth Air Force during World War II.

He told me about his plane being shot up so bad on a particular mission that they were sent to an abandoned air field to land.  All the hydraulics were shot out.  Daddy and the other waist gunner tied their parachutes to their machine guns as the plane landed, in an attempt to slow it down.  They counted over 300 holes from anti-aircraft flak.

On August 15, 1944, his B-24 crashed shortly after takeoff.  By God’s grace, all crew members survived.

About 15 years ago, Dad’s first cousin, Jim Fleming, asked me if I knew the details of the crash.  My reply was yes – the plane went down shortly after takeoff, no one was killed, and the entire crew was awarded the Purple Heart for the injuries they received.

He asked me if I knew Daddy had pulled a fellow gunner from the burning B-24.  I told him I did not.  When I asked Daddy about it, he said, "Margenson and I were the last ones out.  We went out together."  After a long pause, he said, "I guess he was in shock and was sitting there waiting for it to blow up."  That might be the reason we always received a Christmas card from the Margensons.

After recovering from the crash injuries and a serious bout of pneumonia, he completed his 50th mission on April 26, 1945.  The last mission flown by the Fifteenth in World War II.

I suppose he'd had a belly full of flying.  Instead of flying back to the States in a few hours, he chose to come back on an old Liberty ship, where he won a small fortune playing poker (which he dearly loved to play).

For someone who could have spent the war years making big bucks working overtime at Alcoa, he went on one heck of an adventure for $40 a month.  In June 1945, he was discharged from service and back in Knoxville, Tenn.  A returning World War II vet could take advantage of the "52-20 Plan."  An unemployed vet could draw $20 a week for 52 weeks.  Instead, he landed a job working at Oak Ridge one week after returning home.  This is indicative of the work ethic he had throughout his entire life.  My brother will talk more about this shortly.

On April 12, 1946, my parents were married.  They were married for 48 years.  I could not have asked for a better mother and father.  They were also wonderful grandparents and great grandparents.  Our children and grandchildren dearly loved to spend extended time with Granddaddy and Mom Key, and they loved having them.  Our oldest daughter, Karen, would have stayed every day she was out of school if we had let her.  Our grandson, Zach, loved being there too.  He and Daddy would make things together.  They had a great time with each other.

Our mother passed away in 1994.  Dad and Jean married in 1997.  Jean, I will always be grateful for the love and care you gave our Dad.

At this time my brother Pat would like to say a few words.

From Paris' son, Pat Fleming

My brother said it best when he explained the type of man our father was.  He was a war hero, a family man, a wonderful caregiver to my mother and a great member of the Greatest Generation our country has ever known.

My dad, Paris Hodge Fleming, Jr. was, in many ways, a simple man – a man of humility – an unassuming person who took life as it came.  Yet, he was always consistent in how he approached life.  This is because he lived by a set of values that he followed each day of his life, without exception.  Allow me to explain those basic values that guided my dad’s life.

First, he was a person of tremendous faith – a person who wanted to be judged (whether by God or by his fellow man) by his actions and not his words.

Second, Dad always cared more about others than he did about himself.  He received the most joy when he could lend a helping hand to others.  A good example of this took place on every visit he and Mom made to see me and my wife, Marilyn.  He would always pack his tool box so he could make the many household repairs that had accumulated since their last visit.  Of course, that did not say much about Dad’s confidence in my ability to make those repairs.  The fact is, making household repairs were never my strong suit.  Then, to add insult to injury, Dad gave my wife, Marilyn, a set of tools for Christmas one year, citing the fact that he knew I was not capable of using them.

Finally, Dad believed in the Golden Rule – treating others as he wanted to be treated.  He followed this principle every day, whether it was at work, home, or among his friends.

Those are values that gave direction to my father each day of his life.  It is no wonder that he turned out to be such a good and honorable man.  Simply stated, these values defined his life and how he approached it.

I had the rare opportunity to observe and work for my father in the workplace, first when I would go to work with him as a child; second when I worked for him during high school and college; and finally, when I became his peer in management after college.

I always found him to be a great leader of people – not because of his words, but instead because of his actions.  People responded to Dad’s leadership and they wanted to do their part to make him, and his team, successful. Dad’s employees always had tremendous respect for him.  I always felt sorry for any leader who had to follow my dad, because there was no way anyone could live up the expectations he had set for them.  No one could measure up to the leadership principles employed by my dad.

Dad was also a committed family man.  He really had no hobbies except those that involved his family.  If he was not at work, he was at home.  While he probably did spend too much time at work, he always spent all his other time with his family.  He loved my mom and all of his children and I believe he cherished the time he spent with all of us.

In 1984, Dad made the decision to retire and become a full-time caregiver for my mom.  Dad’s retirement occurred about four years early and before he was economically or emotionally ready to retire.  By that time, Mom’s sickness had made it impossible for her to care for herself, so Dad did the only thing he felt he could do – leave the world of work behind and become a full-time caregiver.

For the next ten years, with no days off, he cared for my mother day and night.  While this was extremely difficult for him, I never heard one word of complaint.  He considered this to be his duty as a husband.  When my mom finally passed away in 1994, my brother Mike thanked him for his unbending service to our mom.  Dad’s response was quite simple – and predictable.  He said, "I did not do anything for her that she would not have done for me."  Yes, my dad was a very special person and I love him dearly.

Before I turn the program over to Kathy, there are several people I wish to thank for their service to my dad, especially during the past year.  I understand that I might leave someone out, so if I do, please accept my apology.  First, I want to thank the members of Dad’s Sunday School class at Wallace Memorial Baptist Church.  Every time I came to visit Dad, there would be someone there from this group.  It meant a lot to him and to his family.  Thank you for your support.

Second, allow me to thank Shelly Buckley.  Shelly gave a lot of time and expense to get Jean to and from the nursing home.  I am not even sure how Shelly got to know Dad and Jean, but I am sure of her devoted service to both of them.  Shelly, thank you very much.

Next, I wish to thank two very special neighbors – Jamie and Sheila Piguett.  Jamie and Sheila rewrote the definition of what it means to be a good neighbor.  We read all the time about how we are not as close to our neighbors and I guess that is true.  Apparently, Jamie and Sheila did not receive that memo.  They have been operating above and beyond the call of duty for a long time, and I will forever be grateful for their service.

Finally, I want to thank Mike and Pat Nichols, their son Patrick and daughter Lorie, along with Joan and Barney, for making Dad a part of their family.  No one can fully understand how comforting that was to Mike, Kathy, and me, especially since we all live out of town and could not be here as much as we would have liked.

Allow me to tell a very short story.  Most people do not know that Mike Nichols and I were childhood friends.  In fact, we were best friends.  There were many days that I was in Mike’s home, eating dinner with Mike, along with his father and mother, Dickie and Ruby.  In many ways, I was a part of their family.  Then, some 45 years later, Mike and Pat again welcomed my dad into their family.  I will always be appreciative of that, Mike and Pat.  Thank you for making my dad a part of your family for the past 13 years.

My final words are for Jean.  Both my dad and Jean had been previously married, both for 48 years.  After losing their spouses, both were very depressed about life and had no real direction.  But on a fateful day, Ray and Christine Fielden, along with some divine intervention, introduced Dad and Jean.  The rest is history.  It was love at first sight.  Immediately the twinkle in my dad’s eye returned, and after marrying on a cold day in January 1997, both loved each other until the very end.

The last year since my dad fell and broke his hip has been very difficult for Jean.  It was then that Jean had to give up her fight to keep dad at home, and place him in a nursing home.  However, Jean never turned away from Dad.  She was with him, caring for him, almost every single day since Dad went into the nursing home.  It was the true test of love – and like my dad’s love for my mom – Jean passed the test with flying colors.

Jean, I sincerely thank you for your service to Dad and also for letting me be a part of your family.

At this time I’ll turn the program over to my sister, Kathy.

From Paris' youngest - his daughter, Kathy Fleming-Chambers

Everyone in this room has been touched by Daddy in some way.  I don't have to tell you what a good man he was, you already know that through your own personal experiences with him.

We had a great childhood.  Daddy often played jokes on us.  I was happy, the baby and the only girl!  My daddy was my hero.  He had great big biceps and strong legs and I thought he'd saved the world in WWII.  I felt like the safest kid in the world.

Momma was a wise woman and often used idioms to make a point and to make us think.  She said a lighthouse doesn't need a horn.  Daddy was a lighthouse.

He kept us safe and secure as children and was there for us as adults.  As an adult, one time I found myself in a state of rebellion against God.  My path was leading me to trouble.  I became convicted of my sin and needed help to make it right.  The last thing I wanted to do was to disappoint Daddy, so I kept it from him as long as I could.  When I couldn't keep it hidden any longer - I made the call.  I told him what was going on.  He responded, "Honey, I've just been waiting for you to call."

You see, My Daddy's love made it easier for me to understand my Heavenly Father's love for me.  Many of you may not have had a Daddy that was understanding and gentle and if you didn't, maybe you could look toward my Daddy and let him guide you toward our Heavenly Father's love and forgiveness.  When we find ourselves in those circumstances, our Heavenly is just waiting for us to call.  Thank you Daddy for living as a lighthouse.

As a very wise woman once said, "A lighthouse does not need a horn."